Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby was and is still to this day one of the most phenomenal psychological thrillers, with Polanski nailing the uncertain tone, the clever pacing and the worrisome atmosphere that Ira Levin’s original novel demanded. Many of Polanski’s films in the ‘60s focused on a certain tragedy in his characters, who often could not understand the situations they had placed themselves in, from Repulsion (fear of the outside world) to Rosemary’s Baby and a mistaken trust in those around the title character. Unfortunately, these characters could never balance the world the way it is with the way they see it in their heads.
For the most part, the NBC two-night miniseries event Rosemary’s Baby takes the psychological out of this psychological thriller, presenting an obvious air of suspicion, for its audience and cast, which immediately distances itself from the Rosemary’s Baby of the past. In fact, there’s very little question about whether or not something sinister is going on in Rosemary and her husband Guy’s new Parisian home. There’s no mystery and no question that something bad is going down in this not-especially-complex apartment complex, it’s just a four hour ticking clock waiting for the inevitable.
What made Rosemary’s Baby originally so compelling was the slow build to something that seemed ridiculous—even funny—so when the ending finally came, it was easy to understand Rosemary’s trepidation, even as we chastised her for her folly. Right out the gate, the Rosemary’s Baby mini-series tells us that something isn’t right, starting with a woman jumping off of the balcony of an apartment that Rosemary and Guy will soon come to call home. Even before they move to their new home (La Chimere), they are aware that something is strange about the other tenants. While at a party hosted by their soon-to-be neighbors, Rosemary walks in to a room where an orgy is occurring, then discovers it all seems to be in her head. As they leave this party of Paris’ most affluent citizens, they’e given a black cat as a gift, which is clearly strange, as party favors go.
But before Rosemary even becomes pregnant, she learns of these former tenants who died mysteriously, sees strange chanting happening in a neighboring apartment, and is even directly told that yes, this building is known for housing devil worshippers and people who literally eat out the hearts of prostitutes. Frankly, after weeks of being told all the crazy things that have occurred, not to mention the strange events that have led to her husband’s newfound success, she should be at least a little bit wary, especially when told point-blank of the dangers.
When Polanski told this story, he made the neighbors an unsuspecting older couple just trying their best to help in any way they can. Yet here, neighbors Margaux and Roman are immediately suspicious, from their overreaching helpfulness that becomes invasive to literally feeding Rosemary fertility soup and telling her that she’s “ripe” just by smelling her. If someone had this much interest in my baby, I’d immediately think there were ulterior motives.
Even with all the flaws in telling this story, maybe the most egregious is the length of this damn thing. Split between two days and taking up four hours, Rosemary’s Baby is far longer than it should be, seeming to actually get to the story that matters in its second half, while stretching the entire narrative out to last more than one episode. I wouldn’t be surprised if—by setting up so much unimportant backstory and forcing its audience to sit through such mediocre proceedings—the drop-off in viewers for the finale is massive.
The original story put the viewer in Rosemary’s place, filling the audience with a level of paranoia, claustrophobia and uncertainty that became chilling. However here, we’re given an omnipresent view of the events, seeing every horrible action that will effect the larger story, and even seeing suspicious characters praying to the devil before helping to create Satan’s son. Witnessing all of this deception takes away from anything that would make this story as compelling as it should be.
At the halfway point of Rosemary’s Baby, this miniseries feels less like anything Polanski ever did, and far more along the lines of ABC’s failed 666 Park Avenue, about a hotel filled with a demonic presence that feels owed something. Rosemary’s Baby takes a tightly woven, thrilling story and turns it into a bloated, unnecessary chore with all the style of a generic network drama.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.