The First Omen Review

Opening with two of the finest voices in cinema history Charles Dance & Ralph Ineson prepare us with a haunting tale of deceit and unimaginable evils within the church. The score heightens the oppressive and haunting feel and cinematography feels like it was pulled from the 1976 original giving us plenty of hope that The First Omen will be among the greats of horror cinema history. 

Set in early 1970’s Rome, young American initiate Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) has arrived to teach at an orphanage to start her transition into the sisterhood under the watchful eye of long-time mentor Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy) and Sister Silva (Sonia Braga). Margaret strikes up a close bond with troubled child Carlita, a young ward of the orphanage who shares some similarities with Margarets own childhood difficulties growing up. The more time Margaret spends with Carlita the more dark truths come to light. A demonic conspiracy dating back centuries unveils itself as Margaret learns the true reason she has been brought to Rome. 

We cannot delve into The First Omen without first acknowledging the original series of films after all this is a prequel, a Damien origin story if you will. Director Arkasha Stevenson inherited the original script version and has built upon it to deliver a brilliantly shot experience drawing obvious inspiration to the original and other older horror films. Stephenson’s no holds barred approach leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable with some truly intense and gory moments on screen culminating in more than a few questionable moments. Stephenson has managed to intertwine a story of supernatural evil with the very real issues of sexual assault that have plagued the Catholic Church. From the outset you are forced to question everything that is happening to and with Margaret.

We learn that Margarets youth was plagued by strange visions that are framed as a mental illness healed by her faith and devotion to the church and yet the more time she spends with the young Carlita the more these terrifying visions begin to push through building an oppressive tension that carries through even the more subdued moments.

The First Omen is beautifully shot showcasing the ancient city of Rome in turmoil as the revolution of the early 70’s is kicking into gear. You’re led to believe that every darkened corner of the screen has something waiting to jump out at you thanks to an ominous score highlighting both seen and unseen threats. In its quiet moments it feels threatening with your eyes being drawn to unseen terrors within the dark confines of the screen.

Unfortunately for all the brilliance and promise that The First Omen showed I walked away severely underwhelmed. Story wise it is hard to criticise, as with any “prequel” if you’ve seen the originals you know the ending already even if not how we get there. Apart from some top tier performances from the entire case but especially Nell Tiger Free, the story never gripped or terrified me in a way that other religious based horror movies have. Pacing early on is slow with occasional ramp ups that leave it feeling uneven and with only a handful of jump scare moments to pick from these were predictable in their execution. The story itself is one of intrigue and distrust but the weight of what it is trying to say is overshadowed by some disjointed moments and its constant need to try and push your mind in a different direction.    

The First Omen is yet another legacy sequel / prequel that has fallen flat due to the weight of expectation. While a truly wonderful world has been created and filled with brilliant performances, its penchant to rely on horror movie tropes and predictable moments leaves a bit to be desired. Then again maybe I have seen too many horror films in this genre and am expecting too much. Either way Arkasha Stevenson has created a new addition to the Omen franchise to bring more fans into its generational spanning story, a story that is not for the faint of heart.   

The First Omen Review

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