Here’s a clever mash-up, taking the premise of O. Henry’s short story ‘The Ransom of the Red Chief’, in which a band of kidnappers are outmatched by the child they’ve snatched, with a central character bluntly lifted from The Omen. As much of a what-if as the Gaiman/Pratchett novel Good Omens, which put Damien into the world of Richmal Crompton’s Just William books, it works surprisingly well. In fact, it’s a more interesting, unofficial addition to the Omen canon than the actual remake –because it comes up with a fresh setting for its ominously polite, neatly-dressed and well-behaved devil child David Sandborn (Blake Woodruff).
In a disorienting opening, a nanny (Jennifer Shirley) is chased through snowy woods (Canada, subbing for Maine) by demon-eyes wolves and blunders out onto a highway, to survive a near miss but get swatted by the second passing vehicle – and we cut to David playing with cars to orchestrate the accident. Then, a desperate, but not entirely unsympathetic gang assembles: ex-con Max (Josh Holloway) wants the money to open a diner but can’t get a bank loan, his girlfriend Roxanne (Sarah Wayne Callies) comes along because she thinks she’s ‘good with children’ and is worried that the abductee will be harmed, ailing mentor Syd (Michael Rooker) has put the deal together on behalf of a mystery backer, and loose cannon Vince (Joel Edgerton) is always on the point of doing or saying something unhelpful. Disguised as Santa, Max infiltrates David’s birthday party (subtly establishing a blasphemy – this possible antichrist shares a birthday with Jesus) to find the kid apart from his supposed friends, calmly waiting in the garden. Once removed to a derelict, closed-down summer lodge, the boy unnerves his kidnappers – picking up their names but using them in conversation, not because he’s too immature to realise what he’s doing but because he’s daring them to find reasons to kill him, and sketching perfect crayon portraits of the gang on the wall of his room along with prophecies of their fates as they come along. Eventually, he reveals knowledge of the immediate future — such as the fatal heart attack which is about to fell Syd and can see through the lies they tell.
Writer Christopher Borrelli and director Stewart Hendler (who took over mid-shoot from Erik Van Looy) keep the set-up ambiguous in that David, while obviously supernaturally-powered, isn’t at first depicted as out-and-out evil. A kidnap victim naturally accrues some sympathy as his captors fall out or suffer ironic fates, which makes his eventual monstrousness all the more convincing—his main m.o., which differs slightly from Damien’s, is that he can whisper persuasive suggestions inside people’s heads, prompting various folks whose paths he crosses to commit murders. Vince’s demise cannily plays on one of the best-remembered Omen freak accidents, the frozen lake drowning from Damien: Omen II. A good, mid-level cast (solid pros, series stars on hiatus) do well by nicely-written characters, and young Woodruff carries off the creepiness necessary for his chess-like strategy games with adults. Max finally learns his mystery employer is David’s adoptive mother (Teryl Rothery), worn down after eight years of the kind of hell the gang have had for four days, and that the plot is supposed to end with the kid’s death—which clearly, given the tone of the film, isn’t the way it’ll pan out. It makes nice use of the fairytale feel of snowbound woods (‘The Carol of the Bells’ plays creepily at one point), though this winter wonderland is inhabited by ferocious wolves which do their master’s bidding.