American Horror Story has done much to revive the horror brand of late.
While Supernatural shows staying power it’s with a teeny, action tone, you can pretty much count the recent outings on one hand: Psycho-inspired Bates Motel and David S. Goyer’s Constantine amongst them. Soon we will have an Exorcist spin-off.
Damien, which spins off from another cinema classic, The Omen (1976), arises next week on ELEVEN, suitably the home to the other lead shows.
It’s not the first time a sequel has surfaced, notably Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) with a young Sam Neill.
For this contemporary TV version, Bradley James (Merlin) assumes the title role, who at around 30 years of age is a bit of cheat if we’re to believe the photos of Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Harvey Spencer Stephens as his on-screen family. But I like that these are referenced, it suggests somebody has authorised this version.
Writer Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead, Hawthorne, Crash, Life, The Shield) and director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Four Feathers) serve up a rather serious sojourn into the occult and the mythology of the film. With names like these, you’d expect a solid start and for the most part Damien delivers.
Damien has grown up to be a bit of a spunk in Bradley James. He is now a war photographer at work in Damascus, Syria, when we meet him. There in the midst of local trouble he has visions -again drawing upon Richard Donner’s film- via a strange old local woman. When she warns, “It’s all for you!” our hero recalls it is the same phrase shouted to him as a child by a nurse who suicided moments later. Spooky.
Accompanied by colleague Kelly Baptise (Tiffany Hines) back in New York, he embarks on a path of discovery where all the signs will point to him being the next Anti-Christ. Unlike previous incarnations, this Damien is depicted as a good guy who can’t understand why he has inherited any evil.
“You expect me to believe there’s really a god and really a devil and I’m on the wrong side?” he asks.
The rising body count suggests yes.
There are other nods to the original film too, with big black dogs tracking him from afar.
The series also throws in Barbara Hershey as Ann Rutledge, a mysterious maternal character who tells Damien she is in “the protection business” in the first episode. She knows far too much about his past. Duh.
There are a few grisly moments in the opening hour, which serves largely to marry the past with the present and sets up an ominous tone. UK-born Bradley James is very convincing in this US role, and wins audience empathy as a young man struggling to accept the dark forces he has inherited. Director Shekhar Kapur throws in all manner of religious chanting and choirs, yet it does lack a figure as commanding as Gregory Peck, however.
It’s not particularly evident how weekly plots will sustain this as a series -will he be sent on photo assignments?- but aside from occasionally dragging, Damien is off to a pretty faithful start.
Damien premieres 9:30pm Monday on ELEVEN.
ELEVEN also screens Movie: The Omen 9:30pm Sunday.