From playing Prince of Camelot to starring as Prince of Hell, Bradley James has certainly built up quite the resume. I tuned into the Damien premiere this week for two reasons: (1) I was (and still am) a total BBC Merlin geek, and (2) I love a good scare. The Omen is a great film and I was very excited to see the new, present-day twist on the story. Overall, I was impressed–the show is well-shot and has great potential, even if it’s a little slow getting started.
Episode 1, “The Beast Rises,” is set 25-ish years after The Omen and follows Damien Thorn, quite literally just-turned-30 and pursuing a very promising career in war photography. It appears he’s kept his job so long–despite getting in trouble on location in Syria in the first five minutes of the episode–because he’s “the only one” who can get so “close” to the action. Why is it, the viewer is led to wonder, that Damien can get so “close”–physically and otherwise–to the ruin and chaos of war? Why does it follow him?
Well, because he’s the Antichrist. He doesn’t really know that yet, though. So the audience is meant to follow grown-up Damien over the course of ten episodes in his discovery of himself.
What’s particularly gripping about Episode 1 is that, on the outset, Damien appears to lead a very normal life. We learn he’s had love interests, he has friends, he regrets the loss of his parents (even though he can’t remember what really happened to them, or much of his childhood with them, for that matter). But he’s experienced some pretty weird things over the course of his life, too. In this episode, the writers lay the groundwork for his making sense of those pieces that don’t seem to fit–and because of these realizations, Damien’s world begins to crumble. The writers have done a great job in just one episode of creating sympathy for a character about whom we previously knew very little besides the aforementioned creepiness. The show humanizes a classic figure of paranormal horror, which is a hard thing to do, especially with a film that’s been around for so long.
But Damien also pays tribute to its inspiration with a plethora of references (the three hounds lurking in the dark, flashbacks to the iconic hanging scene in The Omen), as well as significantly spooky religious imagery. One of the final scenes in which Damien confronts the crucifix statue in the Church is particularly disturbing and definitely sets the tone for the series. Damien also thrives in cinematography and coloring as a whole. Visually, it’s quite captivating and overall shot very well. Add a creepy old lady speaking Latin and you’ve got the recipe for the significant spooks. Those looking for spidery, subtle scares over hide-under-the-covers tropes will be impressed.
What Damien lacks so far seems to be acting strength and effective pacing. I’m extremely pleasantly surprised with Bradley James as an actor (he’s grown so much since his early days in Merlin–holy American accent, Batman!), but the other actors and characters fell flat to me. I hope these ten episodes allow for recurring characters to grow by the efforts of actors and writers alike. Furthermore, overall Episode 1 is, like most pilot episodes, quite exposition-heavy. Damien faces the challenge of both captivating its audience and providing the Cliffsnotes version of the Omen trilogy’s lore in 43 minutes. So far it seems to focus on the latter, choosing to tell rather than show what Damien’s been up to since we last saw him and winding on about Biblical explanations that just happen to fit what he’s going through. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be some more creative storytelling, because the premise has such promise. There are many opportunities to expand on Damien’s character and on the lore without getting too dense, and I hope the writers take them up.
Overall, I give the Damien premiere a solid 3 stars out of 5. I look forward to tuning in again next week. Despite my nitpicking, the episode left me with a shudder running down my spine–so I can’t deny it achieved its goal!
You can watch Damien Mondays on A&E at 10pm ET.