As far as classic scary movies go, The Omen is actually one of the more tame of the bunch. There isn’t a potent sense of dread – the kind that seeps into your bones and joints – like John Carpenter‘s Halloween, nor is there the wild, imaginative brashness of Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street, anchored as it was by a bloodthirsty harlequin who can enter your dreams. The Omen is more akin to something like The Excorcist, in that it’s as much a taught dramatic thriller as it is supernatural horror; both films are focused on the future and temperament of children, as well as the effects of legacy on the psychology of youths. The films are also both punctuated by acts of violence, but whereas The Exorcist is far more personal, even intimate, in its views on religion, The Omen is a far more broad narrative conception, an entertaining but thematically thin depiction of the coming of the Anti-Christ.
This is a roundabout way of saying that The Omen is a plot-driven concoction primarily, but nevertheless remains an enjoyable, if just a little too middlebrow / bit of dime-store terror, thanks largely to Richard Donner‘s competent lensing and Gregory Peck‘s lead performance. And though Damien, A&E’s retelling of the story of Damien Thorn (Bradley James), portrayed here as a 30-year-old rather than an adolescent, is similarly a story told almost exclusively in plot points, it’s not nearly as fun or inclined toward the menace of the devil as The Omen. In fact, as the change in age suggests, Damien is more in line with with the two sequels that followed Donner’s original, neither of which is much more than a handful of murder-centric set-pieces padded with mundane, uninventive story.
And that, frankly, is all that the pilot episode of Damien is, beyond some shallow touches of modernity that elicit more pained, exhausted groans than ponderous exclamations. As the series begins, James’ Damien is on assignment in Syria as a war photographer of sorts, looking for the big scoop that might nab him a Pulitzer. It’s here that an old mystical woman grabs him and brings back memories (read: footage from the original film) of the deaths that surrounded him as a child and his father’s attempt on his life. When he returns to New York, the memories increase and some of his closest friends and acquaintances meet grisly ends, leading him to believe that the talk of his fantastically especial place in the fate of the world at large may be true.
Though I appreciate an attempt to modernize the narrative, the sequences in Syria add nothing other than to highlight the fact that Damien is almost carelessly brave, willing to walk into one of the most dangerous places on Earth just to capture proof of the horrors that go on there. The creators of the series don’t seem to particularly have anything to say about the situation in Syria, or care about what’s going on there, but what the audience to know that young Mr. Thorn is a fighter and a true believer in peace. In other words, as a character, Damien is a vision of altruism, and though things get tragic and violent in Damien’s life quickly after his return to New York, he doesn’t come off as complex or anguished in his inner life. He is simply a figure of goodness who will be challenged, tempted, by the legacy of evil created by his true parent, Beelzebub.
As directed by Elizabeth helmer Shekhar Kapur, the pilot episode features some handsome compositions, but neither the imagery nor the predictable plodding of the story suggest any insights into concepts of fate, religion, free will, and human nature. In the stylistic spirit of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, Kapur favors a grim palette of colors – browns, dark reds, blacks, tans, and grays – that suggest a dour realism rather than the poppy color scheme one would find in more fantastical or pulpy depictions of such material. This “dark” perspective might, at first, denote a story trying to find ugly truths in supernatural happenings – the show’s creator, Glen Mazzara, was a longtime producer-writer for The Walking Dead – but instead, Damien is of the increasingly insufferable breed of shows that spends much of its narrative time building up a far-off climactic showdown or event that will be so presumably awe-inspiring, it will make all the proverbial water-treading worth the wait.
I can’t speak to what might happen with this show, but it’s a tough sell to believe that the ending of all this portent, a great deal of which is delivered by Barbara Hershey‘s mysterious messenger, will legitimize the general shallowness and dull, predictable turns of Damien thus far. And, frankly, even in terms of pure horror fan-service, the first few deaths that pepper A&E’s latest narrative outing aren’t nearly as inventive or shocking as they are cruel, used to milk a feeling of helplessness that dissipates quickly after the respective scenes are over. Whereas something like Bates Motel found psychological inroads and wild actions to paint a unique, if not always convincing, portrait of a psychotic in his youth, Damien seems incapable of imagining a gloomy, sober-eyed extension of a story that never needed more than two hours to be told in the first place.
★ Poor — A Tremendous Waste of Time