Monday, December 27, 2010

Unsungquels II

Cautionary qualification: you will need some form of silliness suspension but if you made it through the first Omen film you should be ok.

All the bad stuff of the first movie has happened and a pubescent Damien is now lodged with his uncle and family. He and his cousin are borders at a posh American military school. Here Damien is getting acquainted with his birthright and some nifty powers that come with it. At home his aunt is having to fend off the attacks of her mother in law who sees Damien for the Antichrist he really is. Meanwhile at the mega corporation run by Damien's uncle, the middle eastern digs have turned up a mural depicting the apocalypse starring Damien's likeness as Mr Anti. Enough plot for you? Happy now?

Ok, well this is a pretty good film taken within its scope as an entry in a horror franchise. The first film still strikes me as a collection of effective set pieces cuffed to each other with some overwrought performances and fanciful reinterpretation of scripture. Reinterpretation? Rewriting, more like. There's a famous faux pas credit from the glory days of Hollywood of a Shakespeare play which begins "additional dialogue by..." I was actually interested enough in the first Omen to read Revelation (don't let anyone at all try to sell you the book as a plural, it's ONE revelaTION given to St John, everything, the trumpets, horsemen, quakes and hail, New Jerusalem, the lot happens in that ONE revelation). Anyway, none of the Nostradamus-ish prophecy in the movie made it into St John's prose. Disappointing but true. And telling. For all its success as an hysterical horror piece, The Omen is projected from a proveable fabrication. I don't mean that it's fiction but that the text it bases its narrative on is easy to check. The one they come up with might as well have been penned by the guy who did the additional dialogue for Shakespeare. Anyway, Damien: Omen II doesn't have that problem.

Damien: Omen II is superior to its predecessor in that it makes no pretence to biblical authority beyond the idea of the Antichrist itself. Actually, as all the overacting and silly expository dialogue (less here than in the first one) the Antichrist as a teenager is pretty compelling stuff. Damien is a likeable and popular boy among the kids at uniform school. He's going through changes the same as they are. Well, apart from the pubic hair and the bumfluff on the upper lip, acne and stirring hormones, he's getting some extras (while they're getting boners he enjoying a bonus).

Two scenes at the school show this splendidly and they arise from the narrative rather than are obviously engineered by it. The first is when a bully tries it on the dark one and pushes him to the limit. A series of quick cuts between the gazes of the two show the sweet faced Damien suddenly become icily intense. No make up or lighting, just acting. The bully is reduced to a twitching wreck seeing untold horrors while writhing on the floor. We don't see what he sees. We don't need to. The next is my favourite. Damien in history class is brought up by the teacher and drilled by him about some significant dates of military history. Damien's face again freezes over as he not only gets every one right but starts to answer questions the teacher hasn't yet asked, in a rapid fire exchange that derails into a shattered teacher and almost oblivious student. Dialogue, editing and performance. This not only fulfills the promise of the first one where the preverbal Damien showed some tantalising power over the big nasty black doberman and made the apes go ... all baboony in the safari park. This is a sequel doing what it says on the tin.

Other set pieces include a blinding by raven on a lonely country road, everyone's nightmare lift ride as one goes plummeting twenty floors, a extended drowning scene under an iced over lake, the revelation of Damien's likeness on the mural and a fine fiery furnace of a finale. All that and a younger Lance Hendriksen as a kind of minder who cautions Damien against revealing his nature too early. Mention must also be made of Jerry Goldsmith's improvement on the already impressive work he did on the musical score for the first one. The black mass extends out into the gutteral squawks of ravens and a darker, more insidious aural landscape on this outing. The look of the film also has a richer palette than the first, in line with the heightened senses of a teenager.

On that, one of my favourite scenes from the film again testifies to Jonathon Scott Taylor's title role performance when he offers the hand of Satanic protection to his cousin. No lightning bolts or gothic music, just two kids arguing the stumbling awkward way teenagers do when going through hurtful disputes about things like loyalty or jealousy. It's not kitchen sink realism but it isn't goth central either. It could have been a scene from Summer of 42.

This film needs its predecessor but by the sequel's finale the original feels like a prequel. Like it.

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