Sunday , 26 March 2017

Damien picks up where The Omen left off – review

Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man: and his number is 666.

Damien - with dogs

The Beast, False Messiah, the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist – all are names given to the Son of Satan. When he arises in power, he is to lay waste to all of mankind. It is his destiny. And there are protectors who will do everything in their power to make sure the prophecy comes to be. Death and destruction are his constant companions. Now it is time for him to understand who he truly is and what he is meant to be. Thus lies the premise of A&E’s new series, Damien, which serves as a direct sequel to the 1976 20th Century Fox flick, The Omen. In that movie, Damien was just a 5-year old boy, generally oblivious to the evil surrounding him, whereas now he is a grown man, having recently turned 30, and becoming aware that something is not right.

“Look at me, Damien. It’s all for you.”

Damien - The Omen

The original film, The Omen, is one of the great, classic fright films of the 70s. Continuing the newfound horror of demons and the devil seen in Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen took the premise of the ultimate evil even further. Not content to limit the setting to basically one house and one city, The Omen sent audiences on a worldwide quest to unearth horrifying secrets and devastating truths. Starring Gregory Peck as U.S. diplomat, Robert Thorn, and Lee Remick as his wife, the movie dealt with their gradual realization that their adoptive son may be the personification of evil itself. The film was probably most notorious for ushering in the use of creative, grisly deaths, from a priest impaled by a lightning rod, to perhaps the greatest decapitation scene of all time. While later franchises, like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm St., also became known for their gory displays of carnage, it wasn’t until The Final Destination films, starting in 2000, that imaginative, Rube Goldberg-esque means were used by unseen forces to get characters to meet their demise in gruesome fashion, like in the Omen films.

“There’s always been someone else, some thing, like a dark cloud hanging over me.”

Damien - Syria

In the TV show, Damien (Bradley James) has now turned 30, and is a war photographer who surrounds himself with noise and mayhem as a means of keeping at bay the repressed memories of his youth. When an elderly woman confronts him in war-torn Syria, appearing to know him, it triggers some of these lost memories, and sets him on an investigation, just like his father before, to uncover the truth behind his ancestry and ultimate destiny. As death seems to follow him wherever he goes, he ultimately learns that he is indeed the Antichrist. Whether or not he accepts his true identity, and embraces it and all that comes along with it, will be played out as the season progresses. While there are those who know who Damien is and are out to stop him before he can reach his preordained destination, there are also those aiding him, including one protector who has watched over him since he was a child, played by Barbara Hershey, who is convincingly menacing, manipulative and mysterious. Also appearing in future episodes is Scott Wilson, last seen as the loveable voice of humanity, Hershel, on The Walking Dead. It will be great to see this terrific actor, who should’ve won an Emmy for Dead, again on the small screen. Glen Mazzarra, who served as executive producer and showrunner for seasons two and three of The Walking Dead, performs the same duties here.

“The Devil does exist. He lurks in the dark corners of the heart.”

Damien - cast

Two episodes in, it’s still too early to know whether Damien will succeed in carrying on the tradition of The Omen, but they are continuing to showcase grisly death scenes, from throats ripped open to a man bisected by the hood of a car. What is interesting, though, is that the producers have decided to completely ignore the second and third films of the series. (There was also a fourth film, the made-for-TV, Omen IV: The Awakening, as well as a 2006 unnecessary remake.) In the second film, Damien was a teenager in military school, while the third film, The Final Conflict, saw an adult Damien, played by Sam Neill, having fully come to terms with his devilish side and ready to fulfill the prophecy. By tossing everything else aside, the producers are able to concentrate on a Damien coming to grips with who he is and how he deals with it. Furthering the ties to the original film, clips featuring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and other stars from that film, are interspersed throughout the show, as Damien’s memories gradually become unlocked. This lends a credibility to the small-screen continuation that is rarely seen with television sequels and such (Ash vs. Evil Dead being another.) We also see the return of the ever-present, bloodthirsty Rottweilers, who keep a watchful eye over Damien, ready to tear apart anyone getting in the way, as well as the seven daggers of Megiddo, which are to be used to kill the Antichrist. Satanic-sounding choirs are also on hand, as a portent to whenever sinister happenings are on the way.

“The Darkness is coming.”

Damien - negative

A show like this rests upon its lead, as it needs to be someone who is at once charismatic and charming, yet capable of sinister doings. Bradley James may be the best personification of Damien yet, as he starts out as a good person. He wants those he cares about to stay away from him and his ‘cloud of darkness,’ and he’s not afraid to risk his life to save others. But he may not be able to escape the inevitable truth, that he is meant to bring about Armageddon, as told in the Book of Revelation, and hopefully, the show will effectively convey his descent, or not, to the dark side.

Naturally, a show dealing with the bible and prophecies, should get into some pretty heady material, and Damien is unafraid to tackle questions of faith or the lack thereof. When someone in Damien’s circle loses a loved one, she believes, “she can’t be gone, this can’t be all we have….death isn’t the end.” Damien, himself, while never someone of faith, questions how God could let a good person die so senselessly. He also asks God/Jesus what He wants from him, and what he ever did to Him so as to deserve such a fate. Ultimately, Damien is meant to “become the greatest tyrant the world has ever seen, plunging it into darkness, plague, famine, war – the end of days – until he is defeated by the returned Christ during the last judgment.” At one point, a priest asks, “If you could’ve killed Hitler, before he unleashed all his horrors on the world, would you have? This….is worse.” It’s an interesting idea, one brought up before in time travel movies. And you can’t help but equate the prospects of an evil, hate-filled tyrant destroying the world with that of a certain political frontrunner dominating the headlines here in America. While we hope, and pray, that calmer, wiser heads will prevail here in the real world, on the small screen, we look forward to all the death and destruction to come as Damien confronts the evil that lurks within him.

Damien airs Monday nights on A&E, following another classic horror character, in the excellent prequel, Bates Motel. Together with Fox’ more lighthearted, Lucifer, it makes for a devil of a night for television watching.

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