The story flashes forward, through judicious use of home video montage, to where the family have moved from Rome to London, where the well-connected Robert is now ambassador. There’s a big garden party to celebrate the fact that the demon child is now five, where his devoted nanny hangs herself off the roof in front of the guests. This horrible act, drawings of which later decorate his bedroom, start an awareness in Damien (newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) that he is different from all the other kids. When a frantic Irish priest Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) and a local photojournalist Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) arrive to tell Ambassador Thorne that his son is the antichrist, he doesn’t believe them at first, even if his wife has her suspicions. Finally convinced he must act to stop the child, he finds the forces of evil, mostly channelled through the benign shape of Nanny Baylock (Mia Farrow) are a far tougher test of his diplomatic abilities.
Schreiber does well in the Gregory Peck role, occasionally mimicking the late actors growling incredulity. Opposite him, Julia Stiles as Katherine is unconvincingly brittle, never giving the impression she hasn’t read the lines from a page before forming the words. She does have a great death scene though and its here that the film shows its merit, coming up with new twists on the classic scenes of Mousetrap-like demonic spite that put paid to more than a few characters in the build-up to the final battle.