May 31, 2024

THE FIRST OMEN is Creepy & Audacious

2024 / 119 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Going in, I didn’t expect much…another cynical product assembled with about as much imagination as its title.

However, The First Omen begins with the spectacular death of a priest (Charles Dance), paying obvious homage to the original film’s lightning rod impalement scene while one-upping it with a nasty twist. Dance’s delirious expression right afterwards is disturbing…and priceless.

I perked up a little. Even if this prequel was simply a histrionic cavalcade of the same type of creative kills the Omen franchise is renowned for, perhaps I was in for a gory good time. At the very least, it would be more fun than that drab dumpster fire, The Exorcist: Believer, another recent attempt to breathe new life into a dead horror property. 

Rest assured, there’s some gonzo gruesomeness to be had here, including a couple of sick birthing scenes that might even have jaded horror fans wincing (while another poor rube cut in half by a truck might have them chuckling). But surprisingly, there’s more to The First Omen than cheap thrills. It actually has a good (and crazy) story, fairly interesting characters and generally solid performances. 

Taking place in Rome in 1971, Nell Tiger Free plays Margaret, a young American would-be nun arriving to serve at a Catholic orphanage run by her mentor, Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy), and abbess Sister Silva (SĂ´nia Braga). She’s immediately warned to stay clear of one girl, Carlita (Nicole Sorace), because of her evil, antisocial behavior. Meanwhile, she rooms with Luz (Maria Caballero), another novitiate bent on sewing a few wild oats before giving her life to the church. She even coerces Margaret into going out for one wild night (which has dark ramifications revealed later).

"My precious..."
Then Margaret is approached by Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), who warns her of the Antichrist’s arrival. But before one assumes this revelation is just rehashing the original plot of The Omen, the narrative throws a curveball: Attempts to bring the Antchrist into the world are being carried out by Catholic extremists. For years, they’ve been trying to birth a male with the belief that his presence will coerce people to return to the church, which has seen its influence and authority diminish over the years. The film later throws in more surprises and twists, especially regarding most of the major characters, drawing just as much narrative inspiration from Rosemary's Baby as the franchise it belongs to. 

Speaking of which…for most of its running time, the film works well enough as a stand-alone story that one might temporarily forget it’s even part of a series, let alone a prequel. But we’re reminded at the end with what feels like an obligatory scene bridging this film to The Omen, as well as a coda that suggests aspirations of kickstarting a new franchise. Those who grew up on the original might get a nostalgic kick out of these scenes, but neither are really necessary.

Perhaps because my expectations weren’t all that lofty to begin with, The First Omen was a pleasant surprise. Creepy, violent and narratively audacious (maybe even a bit blasphemous), this is a good horror film that manages to avoid being just another superfluous prequel. If nothing else, it’s the best Omen film since the original. 


FEATURETTES - The Director’s Vision features director Arkasham Stevenson and interviews with the producers & cast; Signs of the First Omen focuses on production design, costuming and (of course) the gruesome make-up effects; In The Mystery of Margaret, actress Nell Tiger Free discusses her character.

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