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Review: The First Omen (2024)

The First Omen (2024)

Directed by: Arkasha Stevenson

Premise: A prequel to the 1976 film The Omen. In the early 1970s, a young nun is assigned to work at a Catholic orphanage. She begins to suspect that the orphanage conceals a diabolical secret.  

What Works: The past decade has seen a lot of retro sequels to popular properties from the 1970s and 80s such as Star Wars and Rocky and Top Gun. The First Omen is a prequel to the 1976 classic and it is among the better of these belated follow up films. Aside from telling a compelling story of its own, a prequel or sequel must change and expand our understanding of the original picture and The First Omen does that. The plot of the original Omen remains intact but The First Omen seizes upon the backstory hinted at in the original film and finds ways to build out the story world. Both The Omen and The First Omen are about parenthood. The original story unfolded from the point of view of a father and had an underlying paternal point of view. The prequel has an overtly feminine point of view as it is set in an orphanage, focuses on a mostly female cast, and deals with pregnancy. The terror of The First Omen is informed by that feminine point of view with a lot of the horror centered around pregnancy and the way a pregnant woman’s body may be out of her control for both biological and political reasons. There is an understated political theme to The First Omen that works for the horror and builds an atmosphere of dread. The picture has some exceptional visuals. Filmmaker Arkasha Stevenson brings a visual audacity to The First Omen. The prequel is in keeping with the look and tone of the original picture but it also has surreal touches and surprising and unnerving images. The picture also has several terrific performances, namely Nell Tiger Free in the lead role. She plays a young and devout nun who discovers a conspiracy and struggles with her spiritual calling; the filmmakers smartly intertwine the horrific discovery and her spiritual complications. The clergy of The First Omen are also played well. Religious characters are often portrayed as caricatures but the people here are very human, in particular a cardinal played by Bill Nighy.

What Doesn’t: The First Omen has been released theatrically just weeks after a similar film, Immaculate. The two stories are remarkably similar. The First Omen is easily the better of the two movies but viewers may not be able to shake the sense that they’ve already seen this story. In addition to referencing its predecessor, The First Omen also includes homages to other horror pictures such as Suspiria, Possession, and Rosemary’s Baby. The references are fun for seasoned horror viewers but there are so many that they sometimes become distracting. The First Omen is never quite as spooky as its progenitor. The 1976 film had a powerful sense of dread and atmosphere that the prequel never quite matches.   

Bottom Line: The First Omen is a successful work of religious horror and a worthy prequel to the 1976 classic. This is the best follow up to The Omen, although that’s not saying much, and it is true to the spirit of the original while also standing on its own as an occasionally daring piece of work.

Episode: #992 (April 14, 2024)