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Movie Review: The First Omen



 

“Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” - 1 Peter 5:8


The sub-genre of religious horror will always be a bit of a conundrum to me. When you think about it, a subject consisting of demons and devils, antichrists and evil cabals, the idea of religion and horror seems like, well, a match made in heaven. And while it certainly has produced some amazing, game changing classics like The Exorcist and The Omen it has far and away produced more hot garbage than anything else. So why is it seemingly so difficult to create a legitimate religious horror movie? I suspect that despite having all of the elements of a bona fide classic, it comes down to the same obstacles and trappings of any other horror movie that fails to live up to its promise. 



An overreliance on empty jump scares, the one character with all the possible answers to any questions relevant to beating a particular demon or general evil entity. Never believing the child in the room, upside down crosses, exorcisms (no explanation needed). At its most basic it’s likely just another genre where they forget the importance of character development, ingenuity, fresh ideas and the difference between homage and outright ripoff. And if it’s a sequel they tend to take the few most significant aspects of what worked with the first and expand upon it in a way that often feels manufactured, forced and in the end it loses what made it special in the first place. Of course with sequels of any genre, bigger seems to get mistaken for better a bit too much.


It’s rare, but it does happen, when a movie comes along that finds the perfect symmetry between what was and the now. I believe The First Omen, a movie I had zero interest in giving even a second thought about, is that kind of movie. 



So much of the seventies was filled with societal anxiety, some reasonable, most of it a fear of the unknown or misunderstood. Much of the horror in that decade was directed by men who feared a world where women were becoming every bit their equal. It was a time of female liberation and for many that was unthinkable. It often manifested itself in the way women were depicted in an era when horror movies became far more violent, bloody and nefarious. In the original Omen, it is a female that is said to give birth to the Antichrist, a human vessel that will invariably lead to the end of the world as we know it. In The First Omen it’s a callback to a time of paranoia over the undefined providing a surprisingly cerebral experience. But make no mistake, when it demands shock and awe it goes for the jugular. 



The First Omen has a familiarity to it, almost as if it’s a false source of comfort. It operates under the assumption that you’ve seen your fair share of horror so who are they to try and fool you? I believe by luring its audience in it allows for the more ghastly moments to be even more impactful. As someone who has seen more horror movies than the average moviegoer and who unfortunately grew up on the internet, where the horrors of our own reality are cruelly uploaded and witnessed by impetuous, naive idiots like myself, it’s understandably hard to be surprised by horror movies made today. I’ve become desensitized and as a result, it’s generally the morally bankrupt, the more independent fare like Martyrs or A Serbian Film that get a rise out of me. And those rarely leave me feeling like they were time well spent. So it’s a nice change of pace when something more mainstream still manages to bring a more independent feel to it without losing the point of any fictional movie and that is to entertain. 


The story is a familiar one - a young girl from America finds herself abroad at a Catholic sanctuary in Rome for orphaned children. She hopes to take her vows and become a nun at the very source of Catholicism. It isn’t long however before she begins to notice things are not as they appear to be. In a place where she should feel closer to God than ever, she feels more lost and scared than she’s ever been. The shadows seem to be teeming with ominous secrets and the nuns and priests bring with them a kind of sinister presence. And then there’s Carlita. Warned by the caretakers to stay away from this designated problem child, Margaret feels a connection with her and discovers Carlita’s presence at this sanctuary is no mistake and that evil forces are at work with Carlita and Margaret’s future hanging in the balance. The very fate of Catholicism and the collective conscience of the world itself are up for grabs in this tale of good vs evil where neither is easy to discern from one another. 



This is a jaunt into hell that cultivates paranoia and uneasiness. Nell Tiger Free as Margaret is absolutely sensational showcasing innocence caught in a storm of evil forces that pursue her at all costs. Her role is extremely physical, trying to uncover the malevolent plot to birth the Antichrist and change the understanding of religion itself for the rest of time. The garbs of good conceal the works of evildoers and trust is a scarcity in a place that promises comfort in the embrace of an all-loving God. It’s intense with moments of seriously haunting, disturbing imagery that provides a thrill but at the cost of feeling a bit of disgust in the process. 



The First Omen is a surprisingly well-made return to a franchise that started strong and quickly fell off from there. First time feature director Arkasha Stevenson demonstrates an affinity for the classics while still bringing a healthy amount of fresh, highly engaging and visceral moments of both body horror and psychological terror culminating in a deranged third act. Stevenson has demonstrated a tenacious style of respect for what was while braving the unknown to bring elements of freshness in the way of jaw-dropping scenes of horror brilliance. She has a bright future. I can’t wait to see what she does next. If there’s a lesson here, it’s to never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a movie by its trailer. You know that old nursery rhyme. I thought I had The First Omen pinned only to discover the pleasant truth that it’s not just one of the best horror films of 2024 but one of the best horror prequels since Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil. Damien would be proud.



Rated R For: violent content, grisly/disturbing images, and brief graphic nudity

Runtime: 120 minutes

After Credits Scene: No

Genre: Horror

Starring: Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy, Nicole Sorace

Directed By: Arkasha Stevenson


Out of 10

Story: 8.5/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 8.5/ Visuals: 9

OVERALL: 9/10


Buy to Own: Yes

 

Check out the trailer below:


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