Review: Damien 1×1 (US: A&E)

He's not the Anti-Christ. He's a very good boy

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E
In the UK: Not yet acquired

666 problems but a she-jackal ain’t one.

Prequels and sequels to famous horror movies are all the rage right now. We’ve already had:

There’s also a pilot for a The Exorcist series on the way. Now we’ve got Damien.

Unless your knowledge of cinema is akin to that of a newborn child’s, that name should already be telling you what this is related to. In case it doesn’t, wee bairn, I’ll fill you in. Fresh off the back of the success of The Exorcist in the 70s, The Omen was Britain’s effort to cash in by taking seriously the Bible’s Book of Revelation. It details the birth and early childhood of ‘Damien Thorne’, the son of the US Ambassador to the UK (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick). Except Damien’s actually secretly adopted and is really the son of the Devil and a jackal. Oh dear – he’s the Anti-Christ and he wants to bring about the Apocalypse.

Along the way, various people gradually work out that Damien has a ‘hint of the night’ about him, and are promptly rewarded for their imagination, detective prowess and faith in God with a gruesome, almost Final Destination-elaborate death.

Like The Exorcist, The Omen proved popular enough to spawn a couple of sequels, with that nice Sam Neill eventually becoming the grown-up Anti-Christ in The Omen III. However, Damien forgoes those two sequels in favour of continuing the first movie in its own way.

This time, it has that nice Bradley James (young King Arthur in Merlin) playing the grown-up Damien Thorne. Despite numerous flashbacks to the movie and its stalwart 70s fashions, Damien has apparently only just turned 30. He’s forgotten all about how his parents died, that governess of his committing suicide in front of everyone at his birthday party, those great big rottweilers that use to hang around protecting him and so on. He just wants to roam the world, taking Pulitzer-prize winning photographs of wars.

That is until he’s on assignment in Damascus and gets a literal baptism in blood by an old woman with white eyes who mumbles in Latin at him and says ‘It’s all for you.’ That’s not a good sign is it? 

After that, he starts to remember all those weird deaths that happened around him when he was growing up, in part prompted by all the new weird deaths that start happening around him. The question is, once he’s found his game-changing 666 birthmark and begins to believe for sure he’s a major player in the Bible: is being fated to be the Anti-Christ inevitable, like Norman Bates becoming a crazy serial killer in The Bates Motel, or can our Damien drink the blood of Christ, eat the body of Christ and accept Christ as his saviour so he can take up sheep farming or something instead, and all his friends can stop dying horribly?

Here’s a trailer and for a change, you can watch the entire first episode, too, below. Then we can discuss it after the jump.

After experiencing a traumatic event while on assignment in Syria, acclaimed war photographer Damien Thorn is forced to confront his past and face the fact that he is the Antichrist.

Is it any good?
It’s not awful, but it’s not great either.

The show’s biggest problem is tone. The Omen knew it was dealing with a potentially very silly subject that could evoke laughter rather than chills. However, it realised that provided it took everything very seriously, did it all in broad daylight and got good actors for all the big roles, it could convince the audience that a little boy was really the son of a she-jackal and that the end of days was nigh.

Damien does none of these things. It’s amazingly hokey, very stupid and knows it’s a horror series, which means lots of night shoots, knowing winks to the audience, people being archly cryptic in a way that would normally get them punched, lots of old cardinals skulking around in Dan Brown attics and so on. Believe it? Not for a second.

Bradley James is bland as Damien but not terrible, Megalyn Echikunwoke is just about dialling her performance down to tolerable levels after playing cartoon superheroine Vixen for a while, while the multi-award winning Barbara Hershey probably wishes she had a moustache so she could twirl it, since no one seems to have told her this is supposed to be serious. It’s not a strong cast to act as a foundation for such a precarious topic.

The other problem is that it’s not very scary. To some extent that’s because of the tone and to its credit, Damien frequently tries to slowly build up horror, rather than use the now-standard quiet-quiet-bump approach. These efforts to raise some chills, at least.

But we’re talking about the Anti-Christ and the worst Damien @ 30 seems capable of being is a tad uppity. Jesus had a lovely childhood by all accounts, so you’d have thought that his opposite number could at least be a tad sociopathic. At the moment, you feel like Damien’s going to end up possessed in order to become evil, having spent his formative years emulating St Francis of Assisi.

Damien‘s not worthless and it has some fun qualities. But it’s dull, derivative, and lacks innovation and unique selling points. If you’re a fan of The Omen, you’ll probably appreciate the copious references and clips from the movie, and Damien does follow its mythology pretty faithfully (occasionally quibbling with it for Bible pedants). But it’s a big disappointment in comparison and adds almost nothing worthwhile.

Those who haven’t seen the original – why not? Watch that instead of this.