“From the eternal sea he rises, Creating armies on either shore, Turning man against his brother, ‘Til man exists no more.” Thus was the prophecy which heralded the rise of the Beast incarnate, Damien Thorn, the Antichrist given birth upon Earth by a jackal. The interpretation of “the eternal sea” was presumed to be the world of politics, “the sea that constantly rages with turmoil and revolution,” with Damien’s father, the late Robert Thorn, the American ambassador to Great Britain.
In fact, the eternal sea from which this abomination rises is the American cable network A&E, developed by Glen Mazzara, former writer and consulting producer on The Walking Dead, based on the 1976 supernatural thriller The Omen written by David Seltzer and directed by Superman and The Goonies’ Richard Donner though apparently proceeding directly from the final scene of young Damien at the funeral of his parents and ignoring both cinematic sequels, the subsequent television movie and the remake of 2006.
What it has maintained is the flexible approach to the timeline; although there are flashbacks to the 1976 film and photographs of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as Robert and Katharine Thorn alongside Harvey Spencer Stephens as the young Damien, that film had the birth of the Antichrist as 6am on the 6th of June 1971, now placing him in his mid-forties, whereas here it is specified that Damien is only now celebrating his thirtieth birthday, not so coincidentally the same age when Jesus began his ministry.
Played by Bradley James, formerly Arthur Pendragon on the BBC’s Merlin, rather than an industrialist and head of Thorn Enterprises this Damien is a photojournalist, a war correspondent assigned to the conflict in Syria where he is caught in a riot in Damascus, the army attempting to clear an area met with hostile resistance.
Rocks are thrown by the civilians, the soldiers responding with tear gas, and caught in the melee Damien reaches for an old woman who astonishingly speaks to him in English, whose touch triggers memories long buried, of his fifth birthday party at the country house in England, his nanny calling out to him – “It’s for you, Damien, it’s all for you.” Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent it’s all for the lowest common denominator of the target audience.
Where Donner’s classic original was a work of atmosphere and dread which rode on the wave of religious horror instigated three years previously by William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, using the heavyweight presence of Hollywood leading man Peck and a roster of character actors, David Warner, Patrick Troughton, Billie Whitelaw, Leo McKern, all supported by the chanting dread of Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar winning score, Damien is heralded by opening titles featuring an overblown synth rock cover version over garishly colour tinted religious imagery.
With the opening episode The Beast Rises directed by Elizabeth’s Shekhar Kapur, he seems determined to bring out all the most pedantic aspects of Mazzara’s turgid script, with endless scenes of characters walking into rooms and reciting plot exposition then turning and leaving rooms; to break the monotony, occasionally another character will be in the room and make an apology and leave the room, thus allowing the exposition to continue.
“This is why I left, I couldn’t drag you into this,” Damien tells fellow photographer and former fling Kelly Baptiste (Nikita’s Tiffany Hines) in one of two consecutive scenes of exposition in different rooms, thus neatly dragging her into this even as she explains to an audience too young to recall that shortly before the death of his parents, Robert had made a trip to the middle east where there was another mysterious death, the photographer Keith Jennings.
What Kelly is also dragged into is a patch of Satanic quicksand in a New York car park; having visited Professor Igor Reneus (Devil’s Due’s Sam Anderson), former student of archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen whom Robert Thorn visited in Israel who offers more exposition, in the manner established so memorably in the film anyone who offers the truth must be killed in a spectacular and inventive manner. Or, as is the case here, less spectacularly and more ridiculously, though at least Kelly’s fate is more interesting than Reneus’ own, savaged by a pack of Rottweilers in his front room.
With Damien too old for a menacing nanny, instead the forces of darkness are represented by Ann Rutledge (Black Swan’s Barbara Hershey), who both enters and exits dramatically in her one scene having proclaimed “It’s a whole new world, the seals have been broken, the trumpets blown, the past is a noose around our necks” in the manner of a very well dressed street corner minister of the crazy Church of Satan.
With demonstrably poor structure, shoddy digital effects (the crumbling Christ statue is reprehensibly amateur), a habit of killing characters almost as they are introduced and no eye on the long term goal, the Daggers of Megiddo and Damien’s “666” birthmark already revealed in the opening episode, any intervention to improve the show, divine or Satanic, would border on the miraculous.
The indication is that Damien, his memories repressed, has no concept of his ungodly conception and that the narrative will be driven by his struggle between resistance to and acceptance of the destiny which was foretold in the Book of Revelations, but with ten episodes to fill in the first – and at this rate likely only – season, Damien needs to immediately break out of the trap of mistaking characters talking about dramatic events for drama itself if the apocalypse of cancellation is not to arrive very swiftly.