The First Omen Review
The First Omen Review

The First Omen is a surprisingly potent prequel to Richard Donner’s original film, with it both faithful and capable of being its own thing..

PLOT: A young novitiate in Rome (Nell Tiger Free) is warned by an ex-communicated priest (Ralph Ineson) that she’s at the center of a sinister conspiracy at her church dedicated to spawning the anti-Christ. 

REVIEW: I’ve always really enjoyed The Omen as a franchise. Even as a kid, I found something about the original trilogy centring around Damien Thorn especially gripping. However, I never had much use for the cheap TV movie sequel (Omen IV: The Awakening) or the scene-for-scene remake, which, despite a game cast, didn’t come close to recapturing the grisly spirit of Richard Donner’s original. 

As such, I figured The First Omen would be just another would-be franchise starter, but I have to give 20th Century Studios and Disney credit – they made one hell of a cool horror flick (pun intended). In some ways, it’s a bit like Wonka (bear with me) in that it’s a prequel that does its own thing without shitting all over the original, with the Donner film and the original movies that follow all existing in the same universe this does. 

Director Arkasha Stevenson (of SyFy’s Channel Zero) will likely come off this as one of the fastest-rising new names in horror. She’s made an Omen film that’s distinctly not what fans feared it might be – watered-down and overly safe. It’s actually quite provocative, with several images, including a gruesome birthing scene, pushing the limits of the R-rating in a way I didn’t expect from a movie bankrolled by Disney.

Without giving too much away, The First Omen basically sets up the events, eventually leading to the birth of Damien Thorn. They do so by telling the story of a young, would-be nun who travels to Rome to work with the seemingly kind priest (Bill Nighy) who helped raise her. Once there, people begin dying in grisly Omen-fashion, with Ralph Ineson’s Father Brennan warning her that a child she’s helping care for, Carlita (Nicole Sorace), is at the center of a vast conspiracy. 

If you remember your Omen films, you’ll know Damien always had many devout followers, and this film does a good job laying the groundwork for a new series of Omen flicks that could, theoretically, exist alongside the original films. It’s helped by the surprisingly gruesome and grim tone that feels right in league with the original films. 

Nell Tiger Free makes for a terrific lead, with her having had years of work on Apple TV +’s Servant to prep her horror bonafides. Her Sister Margaret is a believable lead in the same way that Gregory Peck was in the original, in that both are victims of a vast conspiracy they have no idea how to fight, with the movie having a cool moment towards the end that mirrors a particular scene with Peck in the original that I won’t share. Notably, Margaret isn’t an action heroine; she is believably conflicted and vulnerable throughout. She’s well supported by Ineson, who fills a similar role to what Leo McKern did in the original, with his unhinged stories of a conspiracy in the church being one Margaret doesn’t want to believe but eventually must. Sonia Braga, who I’ll always remember for her henchwoman role in Clint Eastwood’s The Rookie, also has a nifty role as one of the nuns at Nighy’s church who – wouldn’t you know it – might be up to no good.

The film is set in early 1970s Rome. Stevenson takes a different approach than the people in the similarly themed Immaculate in that she doesn’t ape Dario Argento, which is a temptation many horror directors can’t seem to resist. Instead, she makes the film in the vein of Richard Donner’s work on the original, meaning it’s more reality-based and evocative of the era it’s set in. I enjoyed one especially impressive sequence set at an Italian discotheque. Stevenson does a better job making this in the spirit of the original than David Gordon Green did recently when he tried to riff on William Friedkin’s style for his abysmal Exorcist sequel. The score by Mark Korven (The Lighthouse) is also quite good, initially seeming a little too subtle until, as the horror starts to ramp up, it starts playing with the classic Jerry Goldsmith themes in a delicious way.

All in all, I was shocked by how much fun I had with The First Omen. My only complaint is that despite a few shocking bits, too much of the gore had that CGI look, which is a trend I wish horror movies would get away from. Even still, that’s a minor complaint, and I have to say that I’m actually interested in seeing where this new Omen franchise will go. It’s a worthy follow-up to the original trilogy. 

8

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Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-first-omen-review/

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