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FILM REVIEW: The First Omen (2024)

The First Omen - New Release Review

Director: Arkasha Stevenson

Starring: Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Maria Caballero, Bill Nighy, Ishtar Currie-Wilson

Written by: Arkasha Stevenson, Tim Smith, Keith Thomas

Produced by: Keith Levine, David S. Goyer

Cinematography by: Aaron Morton

Original Score by: Mark Korven


A young American woman is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church, but encounters a darkness that causes her to question her faith and uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate.

The First Omen Film Review


When it was announced that there was going to be a prequel to 'The Omen' I will be the first to admit that I met the news with the usual groan and eye roll that has accompanied similar sequels/prequels/reboots of recent times like 'The Exorcist' or 'Halloween'. Three sequels, a remake and a tv show later and none of the follow ups have come close to capturing the greatness of Richard Donner's original in 1976 so the idea that a prequel of all ideas could buck that trend was next to near impossible to me because the very notion of it felt pointless. 

Within the opening minutes of the film, these prejudices were almost instantly dispelled as the opening prologue perfectly lays out that 'The First Omen' is not just going to be in keeping with the original but it is also going to be something different in its own right. Any sort of bog standard working director would have taken this script and directed something forgettable, filled with no frills jump scares but here Arkasha Stevenson sees it as an opportunity to show off her skills by making something that really gets under your skin. No stranger to the genre, she has previously worked on the TV series 'Channel Zero' but here in her feature debut she delivers a very bold piece of studio driven horror. 

The First Omen Film Review

Instead of employing cheap tricks like jump scares that are pronounced by some irritating sound design, she understands the importance of atmosphere and how it can be utilised in what is essentially the origins of the apocalypse. From the beginning you are cloaked in a sense of dread that wraps itself around you, slowly tightening itself without give until the final credits. Throughout, the shot compositions employed linger and hold on an actor's face for just the right amount of time to really unsettle you in the best way, possible adding to the unseen evil that pervades just out of sight. This coupled with a creepy sound design and Mark Korven's great score really adds to the feeling of unease. 

As a prequel to the original there are some callbacks that come into play and although they are more than likely studio mandated Stevenson uses it as an opportunity to take the iconography of the set pieces of the original and push the envelope with them, steering them into a much more gruesome and nasty territory to appease broader fans of the genre. Having said that, the film works best when it is trying to do things on its own terms with some nightmarish imagery. The main sequence that comes to mind is the intense "birthing" sequence that makes you shocked at not just how visceral it is but the fact that it came from a studio owned by Disney. It is certainly not a scene for the faint of heart. 

In terms of story the film draws a lot of parallels to Michael Mohan's 'Immaculate' as we follow an American woman, Margaret Daino (Nell Tiger Free) who is in Rome to take her vows to become a nun at a Catholic orphanage. Whilst here she slowly unveils a conspiracy within the church to bring about the birth of the antichrist. Like 'Immaculate' the film hones in on the idea of female autonomy as well as corruption within religious institutions, putting them to the fore in the backdrop of the social upheaval in Italy in the 70's. It is realised quite well throughout the film, further enhancing the sense of helplessness instilled through the atmosphere in the film. You get the feeling that no matter what any character does, there is no saving them from the inevitable. 

Ralph Ineson as Father Brennan in The First Omen

As for Nell Tiger Free's performance, she is fantastic throughout the film as she holds your gaze with every scene she is in. The manner in which she slowly unravels the more dark secrets she discovers makes her enthralling to watch. You can tell she puts her heart and soul into the role with an emotionally exhausting performance. It all culminates in a scene late on in the film that pays homage to Andrzej Żuławski's cult classic 'Possession', which is a real highlight of the film. The supporting cast are great too, including Ralph Ineson taking over from Patrick Troughton in the original as Father Brennan. He takes a more world weary approach to the role that works brilliantly with the style of the film and his trademark deep and gruff voice keeps you locked in on every line of his expository dialogue. A special mention must also go to Ishtar Currie Wilson as Sister Anjelica who is a disturbing presence everytime she is on screen. 

'The First Omen' is a film that left me pleasantly surprised. It delights in its darkness with an artful approach from Arkasha Stevenson that allows it to function both as a prequel and a great piece of sinister horror in its own right. In all of the follow ups and rip offs in the wake of Richard Donner's 1976 original, nothing has come close to its brilliance until now. Truly this is one of the surprises of the year and it will undoubtedly stand as one of the year's best horror films. 

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

-Joseph McElroy

'The First Omen' is released in cinemas April 5th

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