Knowing where the story was going, I spent most of “Night Two” searching for the reason NBC wanted to do this remake. It invites the shackles of Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece. With every short-haired, vile smoothie callback, this Rosemary’s Baby does little more than remind us that there is a superior product out there. This wasn’t inevitable. Multiple adaptations of minable works exist. There’s ample room in today’s social climate for revisiting a woman unraveled by her contemporaries’ innumerate iterations of you’re crazy. Here, the husband just says it: “You got a little crazy last night.”
Yes, pardon the secret passage.
This miniseries began with the suicide of a pregnant mother. Satan, with a horned carving of himself on his cane—like a second form of I.D.—shows up in the next scene. Rosemary never wanted duplicity. That’s okay. Any piece of art has a right to its own identity. We wouldn’t want Polanski doing network television. But even more than that, we don’t want network television trying to do Polanski. “Night Two” holds aesthetics that are meant to tap into the auteur. A murder of crows overhead expelling from a tree like a plague. Rosemary eating viscera in silhouetted profile. It’s not derivative; it’s empty. Mimicry may flatter, but this Rosemary saw The Graduate and cried with joy.
“Night Two” is a by-the-books slog through iconographic religious psychosis. It is men versus men with the dark lord by their side. Caught in the middle of it is Rosemary’s womb. Paris is less a setting than a soundstage. The show’s pretty. Michel Amathieu’s camerawork enlarges the city, but the movements are restricted. Claustrophobia by way of limited access is well worn. But it’s dressing. There’s no tension to inform it. We know everyone’s truths. What’s left to discover? In the film, Dr. Hill’s betrayal devastates whatever shreds of hope had survived. It is one of horror’s great turns. Here, we know Rosemary’s right. The doctor, her final hope, is now a fool, not concerned. But the plot gives him no choice because it needs him to make a specific one. The story depends on Rosemary’s shrieks to conjure tragedy. So Zoe Saldana screams.
It’s unfortunate to see Saldana encumbered by all of this. She’s thriving on her own and no one seems to care. The show can’t look her in the eye. It breaks to clubs and other places denoting temptation with Patrick Adams and Jason Isaacs whenever it gets the chance. Or it slaughters Christina Cole and Olivier Rabourdin. But it rarely gives Saldana the reigns. She’s a background player in many of her scenes, which serves to make her meek. But Polanski didn’t undermine his protagonist’s agency or import; he oppressed her. This show disregards her entirely.
The series has a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes Rosemary’s Baby frightening. Satanists are spooky. But they are fantasy. In reality, they are simply another religion. Here, they are cartoons. Polanski saw this and hid them. He anticipated their silliness; and unleashed it when it would confound rather than halt the terror. Pregnancy, on the other hand, is horrific. We like to think of it in terms of fuzzies and the mini-suspender pants to come. But the biology is grueling: It’s easy to study the growth of a fetus and see it as a parasite. It’s not, but what if it was? Body horror makes people squirm, though. We can shield our eyes from melted faces and slit throats.
The source material and the older sister of this Rosemary are bizarre, precise creatures. Their dread doesn’t so much torment the psyche as it dismembers it bit by bit, rearranging it into something utterly unrecognizable. There’s humor in the horror and deliberation in the pace. Yet, despite doubled length, NBC’s adaptation feels shorter. Its mass counts for less. A pound of rice cakes will do less for the stomach than a serving of beef—or chicken hearts.
—If this was your first exposure to this story, please see the film.
Kyle Burton is a freelance critic and an inaugural recipient of Indiewire and Sundance’s Roger Ebert Fellowship. You can follow him on Twitter.