updated 05/09/2014 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/11/2014 AT 9:00 AM ET
Imagine that you are a young woman, married, ready to start a family. Imagine that you become pregnant, and that you then start to suspect that the infant you are carrying is fathered by Satan, or at least in danger of being handed over to him post-birth in a hellish variation on daycare. Imagine, too, that everyone you thought was caring for you through the pregnancy was actually on Team Satan, and that –
Oh. You’ve heard this before.
The chief challenge to NBC’s reboot of Rosemary’s Baby, the famous suspense novel that became the classic 1968 movie starring Mia Farrow, is that the story is so cleanly and efficiently laid out (in both versions).
There’s no fat on it. It’s a simple, devastating paranoid fantasy about a mother-to-be’s worst fear: That something will go wrong with her pregnancy and with her baby.
The only way to rework such a brilliant concept – short of something as radical as the even sparer “found-footage” approach of a Paranormal Activity or a Blair Witch Project – is to gussy it up and pad it out. Give it an ominous flounce.
That’s what you get with this enjoyable two-part version, premiering Sunday (9 p.m. ET) on NBC and concluding Thursday. It’s directed by Agnieszka Holland, who has shown a very skillful and sensitive hand in readapting familiar stories before (such as 1997’s Washington Square, with Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The new Rosemary’s Baby, which has been transplanted from 1960s Manhattan to contemporary Paris, has an attractive, dark atmosphere of chic rot – they have that over there – a significantly higher body count (people tend to get offed in the manner of The Omen and its many sequels) and a very good cast.
In other words, it’s fun, and it works pretty well.
Rosemary Woodhouse (Zoë Saldana) and her husband, Guy (Patrick J. Adams), move to Paris to advance his piddling academic and writing career, and to help her forget the sadness of a miscarriage. They are quickly caught up in the rich and intrusive company of a middle-aged couple, the Castevets, played by Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet.
Suddenly Rosemary and Guy are living in a gorgeous apartment, Guy is a rising star at the Sorbonne, and Rosemary is pregnant.
A very handsome French doctor alerts Rosemary that some abnormalities are evident during ultrasound – and it’s here that this reboot is most wrongheaded. Any pregnant woman today would insist on a battery of tests, all the latest technology. Rosemary instead makes do with nutritional therapeutic drinks from Madame Castevets’s herb garden.
I also would have objected that a fear of the devil doesn’t have the same hold on our culture that it did 50 years ago, lessening some of the primal horror in the story, but I see there’s going to be a re-enactment of a black mass at Harvard next week, and several hundred priests are receiving exorcism training at a conference in Rome.
So scratch that.
Anyway, Rosemary’s husband is acting shifty, guilty and pathetically unsure of himself around her.
You want to say, “For goodness’ sake, Rosemary, haven’t you seen Rosemary’s Baby?” Unlucky for her, she hasn’t.
The acting, as I said, is quite good. Zaldana is properly panicked as Rosemary, Adams is weaselly but in a heartfelt way (most actors probably couldn’t pull that off) and Bouquet is magnificent as Madame Castevets.
Bouquet is not only a fine, disciplined actress, but one of the great French beauties of a certain age (and a former model and face of Chanel): She’s poised and elegant, and a reminder that to succeed in haute couture it helps to project a sense of sinister indifference to the well-being of all mankind.
There isn’t much point comparing any of this to the original movie, directed by Roman Polanski, or to complain about another unnecessary reboot. (Everything that is anything inevitably will get a reboot, including Bridesmaids.) The 1968 Rosemary remains completely unto itself, a psychological exercise in isolation and claustrophobia that can be overwhelming. Yet also very funny.
If you’ve never seen the Polanski Rosemary go ahead and watch the NBC version first. But this clip from Criterion will tell you why the original movie is essential.