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The First Omen Review

April 5, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The First Omen Image Credit: 20 Century Studios
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The First Omen Review  

Directed By: Arkasha Stevenson
Written By: Arkasha Stevenson, Tim Smith, and Keith Thomas; Based on the characters created by David Seltzer
Runtime: 120 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated R for violent content, grisly/disturbing images, and brief graphic nudity.

Nell Tiger Free – Margaret
Ralph Ineson – Father Brennan
Bill Nighy – Cardinal Lawrence
Sonia Braga – Sister Silva
Maria Caballero – Sister Luz
Nicole Sorace – Carlita
Ishtar Currie-Wilson – Sister Anjelica
Tawfeek Barhom – Father Gabriel
Charles Dance – Father Harris
Andrea Arcangeli – Paolo

With Hollywood’s penchant for franchise reboots and revivals, it was only a matter of time before The Omen franchise The First Omen seeks to sponge off the success of the original film by opting for the prequel format. However, in attempting to expand the mythology and backstory of the original film, director and co-writer Arkasha Stevenson only contradicts the classic film by raising more questions than answers.

The First Omen does show some initial promise despite its derivative setup. Young American novitiate Margaret moves to Rome as she transitions to her new role working at an orphanage before she takes the veil. Sister Margaret was previously plagued by terrible visions and hallucinations in her youth, receiving assistance from Cardinal Lawrence (Nighy), who leads her Roman parish. However, as she settles into her new life, Margaret’s hallucinations begin to return, and something ghoulish and unspeakable is taking place at the orphanage. Soon, the excommunicated priest, Father Brennan (Ineson), reveals the truth: A dark conspiracy seeks to bring about the birth of the Antichrist.

The best qualities of The First Omen are Stevenson’s strong directing style and Nell Tiger Free’s fascinating performance as Margaret. Stevenson wears her horror influences on her sleeve well. Despite the predictably annoying jump-scares, Stevenson displays a budding style well-suited for horror throughout The First Omen. Beyond the mimicry of classic horror films of the 1960s and ’70s, she shows a steady hand building some unsettling atmosphere and lavish, foreboding set-pieces. Unfortunately, Stevenson’s solid style is forced to match a weak script that seeks to answer questions surrounding the franchise’s Antichrist figure, Damien Thorn, that were answered a long time ago.

Nell Tiger Free delivers a harrowingly sympathetic performance as the young novitiate, Margaret, becomes subject to unspeakable horrors. Free shows incredible poise and promise with her role, performing difficult moments with the utmost believability. She is a talent to watch moving forward.

Ralph Ineson serves a perfunctory role as the expository Father Brennan who seeks to uncover the Antichrist conspiracy. Father Brennan is the connective tissue between The First Omen and the original, except Brennan has been significantly altered, without explanation, for the sake of the prequel.

Unfortunately, The First Omen’s attempts at expanding the lore of the franchise confuse and contradict what’s already been established. It takes the story in a head-scratching direction that looks like little more than a dire attempt to ignite future spinoffs and sequels. The problems began with The Omen when it started receiving sequels. Hollywood’s collective desperation to turn everything into a franchise is usually what causes the problems in the first place. As The First Omen builds to its final crescendo, events grow more absurd. The narrative oddly tries to connect many dots to the original film despite constant attempts to break away from it. Perhaps future sequels are meant to resolve these new conflicts, but that only makes the experience of watching The First Omen more frustrating.

While Stevenson does build an ominous ambiance in Rome circa 1971, the plot becomes horridly predictable. Major plot twists are disappointingly telegraphed. The First Omen would have been better served attempting to carve its own horror destiny rather than a poorly thought-out attempt to precede a seminal classic.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
The First Omen has its moments, with director Arkasha Stevenson building some disturbing, unsettling ambiance and showing strong potential with her subliminally creepy, throwback horror style. Nell Tiger Free also does well with her lead performance. However, the weak script and desperate attempts to connect to the 1976 film, while still repeatedly contradicting it, cause significant frustration. The film ends in a dull thud with a sequence that looks and feels like it was culled together after months of focus group testing.