If you want to watch the rise of the Antichrist but don’t have the patience to keep up with the debates, then A&E has just the show for you. Enter Damien, a continuation of the 1976 horror classic The Omen, premiering tonight at 10pm after the season premiere of Bates Motel. It’s a little – well, a lot – schlocky, but that generally goes hand-in-hand with the genre (e.g., Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural). Though the pilot lingers too long on unnecessary build-up and skimps on plot advancement, it’s nonetheless a promising start for the series.
Without revealing too much, here’s a brief synopsis of “The Beast Rises,” the series premiere:
Damien Thorn is a globetrotting photojournalist covering the war in Syria (we’re later told his photos might win him a Pulitzer, so he must be good at his job). In the middle of an attack, an old woman grabs Damien’s face and repeats the original film’s most memorable line, “It’s all for you,” before the violence surrounding them escalates. Forced to return to New York, Damien and a former flame begin to uncover the dangerous secrets of his past.
The pilot is beautifully shot by acclaimed director Shekhar Kapur, whose cinematic offerings include the similarly iconographically heavy Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, both starring Cate Blanchett. In particular, watch out for a God’s eye view of Midtown featuring the horned Viacom building, the most devilish-looking tower on the New York skyline.
Barbara Hershey (most recently of Once Upon a Time fame) makes a ghostly entrance as Ann Rutledge, a mysterious guardian-figure who knows more about Damian’s past than he does, and whose crazy-eyed devotion hopefully indicates greater insanity to come.
Well-placed clips from and callbacks to the original film starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick should please horror aficionados. The episode pays proper homage to the 40-year-old horror classic and wisely eschews the unpopular sequels that killed off the now-titular character.
Bradley James makes an underwhelming first impression as the son of Satan. Presumably his angry face will be well worth the wait when he inevitably embraces his dark side, but as a mild-mannered photographer with a complicated past, Damien is mostly… meh. Because we’re more accustomed to seeing his character as a malignant child, perhaps it’s difficult to imagine how Damien grew into a semi-sympathetic citizen of the world. But there’s certainly reason to believe the anti-hero treatment will pay off in the end, though it may come across as overly formulaic in early episodes.
Even accepting the premise at face value, there are some wild inconsistencies with reality. We can go along with the notion that the devil has a 30-year-old, hipsterish son who lives in a loft in New York (Brooklyn, naturally), but we can’t really pretend that there are vast, empty fields in Bushwick where it’s normal to park a car, thus enabling a critical scene that defies all geographic logic. Not much else can be said without revealing certain spoilers, but it suffices to say that Damien is filmed in Toronto, not New York, and in several scenes it shows.
Overall, Damien is an enjoyable but plodding beginning for one of horror’s most famous names. Here’s hoping he can live up to the high expectations.