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April 2024


The First Omen


20th Century Studios // Directed by Arkasha Stevenson // Starring Nell Tiger Free, Sônia Braga, Maria Caballero, Nicole Sorace Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy, Tawfeek Barhom


Richard Donner’s The Omen is a classic of the genre, and for good reason too. It combined a strong premise with solid performances, a throttling atmosphere, memorable death scenes, and, of course, Damian Thorn - the antichrist. It also worked so well, for me, due to its sense of mystery. Sure, characters explored Damian’s origins but the air of uncertainty provided an additional layer of dread. Now, nearly fifty years and three sequels of varying quality later, Arkasha Stevenson delivers The First Omen, a prequel detailing the events leading up to the events of Donner's 1976 original and the birth of the antichrist himself. A pretty bold move, and one that would certainly do more damage than good to its peer if it were to disappoint. Surprisingly, and sensationally, The First Omen is fantastic. As a prequel, it covers the beats required to set up the existing narrative, and it feels like it belongs back in the early seventies when it was set. It would work well as a standalone film in its own right, but as a prequel to a classic, The First Omen is one of the best I have seen. While there are minor flaws in the overall revelation and pacing, Stevenson's patient approach is admirable in today's fast-paced culture, and the build-up provides a satisfying payoff, relying on atmosphere, tension, and a sense of discomfort rather than cheap jump scares - just like the original. Nell Tiger Free is fabulous in the role of Margaret Daino, a novitiate who is sent to work in a Rome orphanage before she takes the veil. Her all-in performance was reminiscent of Isabelle Adjani’s mesmerising performance in 1981’s Possession and genuinely elevated an already strong film. The supporting cast are all extremely strong in their roles with special mention for Braga, Caballero, and Sorace. As a whole, the film oozes quality, Aaron Morton’s cinematography is striking at times whilst Mark Korven’s score is a worthy companion to Jerry Goldsmith’s Academy Award-winning score for The Omen, and, as a connective aspect to an existing story, The First Omen succeeds again. There are enough visual references to moments from the original - including one that is almost identical - and Ineson’s character, Father Brennan, is a returning character (played originally by Patrick Troughton, who himself scored an iconic moment in the original) However, this is not a nostalgia-bait or a greatest hits run-through, but a calculated and precise film that stands on its own before leading to its bridging finale. It would be wrong not to touch upon the horror elements in a…horror film, and it’s safe to say The First Omen is packed with disturbing imagery and moments that will linger long after your viewing. Satisfyingly, nothing feels cheap in that aspect, the scares and toe-curling moments are in service to the story and, at least to my eyes, were created practically - or at least, the vast majority of them were. Sometimes, a film can really surprise me, and The First Omen is one of them. It could so easily have been a cheap use of the Omen name, packed with cheap jumpscares and feeling like another limp entry in The Nun franchise, but Stevenson had other ideas. Delivering a strong story laced with themes of female autonomy, abuse within the Church, and genuinely effective horror, The First Omen is a surprisingly excellent prequel to a genre classic and a damn good film by its own standards.

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