The First Omen Review

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The First Omen can never decide what it wants to be. Based on the title, you might assume that this is a prequel to The Omen, which it is. For much of its runtime, though, the film plays more like a reboot that doesn’t directly tie into the original until the end. As a prequel, The First Omen raises more plot holes than answers. As a revival, the film doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the 1976 classic or other entries in the religious horror genre. The film isn’t without effective performances, striking cinematography, and a few intriguing new ideas. At least that’s more than can be said about The Exorcist: Believer, but that’s not a high bar to cross.

Nell Tiger Free is the best element that The First Omen has going to it. Free gives a committed performance as Margaret Daino, an American who’s transferred to Rome to take her vows. The young nun works in an orphanage where she takes a special interest in an older child named Carlita (Nicole Sorace). A demon appears to be brewing within Carlita, but as Margaret digs deeper, she finds that the orphanage might be rooted in something even more wicked. Her suspicions are intensified with the arrival of Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), who warns of a conspiracy that may see the inception of evil incarnate.

The First Omen was almost given an NC-17 rating with a birth scene being a point of contention. For all the commotion, there’s little in the finished film that’s especially shocking. What’s worse, the imagery isn’t particularly original either. We all remember the chilling scene in Richard Donner’s film where Damien’s nanny hangs herself. The First Omen basically recreates this scene, except this time, the victim is on fire. Even that addition echoes a similar moment from Omen III, which was poorly titled The Final Conflict. When The First Omen isn’t replicating scenes from its predecessors, it’s borrowing from Rosemary’s Baby in a pregnancy storyline that doesn’t make a ton of sense. It makes even less sense when considering The Omen franchise as a whole.

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Fans will recall that Damien Thorn’s mother was a jackal, leading to one of the most unsettling reveals in the original. The First Omen twists this mythology around while introducing several aspects that don’t add up. The motivations behind the conspiracy are not only laughable, but they overcomplicate a story that should’ve ended 48 years ago. In her feature directorial debut, Arkasha Stevenson does show promise with a dynamic visual eye. Stevenson also gets strong performances out of her cast, which includes Sônia Braga and Bill Nighy. The film’s shortcomings are on a script level with the story’s inconsistencies overshadowing the craft. Setting the screenplay aside, The First Omen relies too heavily on jump scares and tired tricks to be genuinely scary.

The plot has its glimpses of inspiration, most notably the dynamic between Margaret and Carlita. Even then, The First Omen could’ve gone further with the final scene leaving much to be desired. While still better than The Exorcist: Believer, both of these movies feel weighed down by established IP. The First Omen would’ve worked better as a standalone story with no connections to Damien. Its attempt to tie everything together is sloppy at best, flipping the script as if it were an upside-down cross.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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