The First Omen (2024)

The First Omen Review

The First Omen

“The miracle of life can be a messy business,” was an expression that stood out in “The First Omen,” an amazing prequel to Richard Donner’s classic horror film, “The Omen” (1976), on the machinations of a demonic six-year-old adopted by unsuspecting Americans residing in London. Likewise, worth mentioning is last year’s Sydney Sweeney-starrer religious gaslighting masterpiece “Immaculate”, which is as well a messy business itself, considering it produced nothing else but the Antichrist.

“Two genre films that revel in supernatural Catholic horror? In this economy?,” you might be asking. However, let me tell you that this present day at the movies will give no other audience member an opportunity to witness how they gleefully cut open and watch blood gush out of it like it were the ‘60s or ‘70s again. For instance, when “Immaculate” winks naughtily at Giallos and nunsploitation flicks of that time period, then Arkasha Stevenson’s first-time feature directorial debut, “The First Omen”, is both these things too but is also a fine paranoid thriller having shades of Rosemary’s Baby.

But above all else, it must be clearly understood here that “The First Omen” remains an unashamedly symbolic ode to everything about The Omen: its meanings; its 70s aura; its warm earthy color palette; and most importantly its slow creeping horrors – the ones that shall haunt you forever after your lights go off every night. So if ever there was any doubt about whether or not we should have seen another movie by now about this particular long-running cult classic storyline before every single person had gotten into his or her car and left theater premises once more with empty pockets because who could even remember why anyone would want such nonsense anyway until somebody realized we actually paid money just to see more footage of the same thing again instead of something fresh or different but now we are being told it was all planned out from day one when everything first began in 1976. Not only does Stevenson et al remember why this seminal line uttered by the nanny “It’s all for you, Damien!” terrified audiences back in 1976, they also reveal that a mythic hero with an archetypal journey is called for when it comes to this incarnation of the Antichrist who turns out to be an American diplomat’s son.

The new film pays a great tribute to Peck and is also an indication that you can go home and play Donner’s movie directly after watching those Halloween movies which were as tight as anyone would expect them to be during this period of make-believe horror relapse. (The new film’s homage to Peck is both wonderful and a cue that you can run straight back home and press play on Donner’s film for an experience as seamless as watching the first two “Halloween” movies back-to-back.)

This story follows Margaret Daino (a brilliant Nell Tiger Free), an American novice who has recently arrived in Rome and has been assigned work in an orphanage before taking her final vows. She arrives in Rome with eyes wide open like someone coming into a dance school at Suspiria. For Margaret, these vows of chastity and poverty were her life, especially when there were protests happening everywhere around her church. Nevertheless, she allows another newbie Luz played by Maria Caballero – to dress her up sexily then leads her into dancing clubs. Why should they cover their bodies or give up on adventures earlier than necessary? asked Luz. Tempted perhaps, yet unwillingly even if too cowardly not to trust Luz’s authority; Margaret dutifully took off her garb…only she woke up in bed next morning without remembering what happened with the guy she had met at the bar before.

Margaret forms a bond with Carlita (Played by Nicole Sorace) immediately in Elsewhere, who is introduced in the script as potentially a memorable new face we should be on the lookout for in future, her act being so vulnerable yet horrifying. However, much to the chagrin of Sister Silva (Sonia Braga), an austere and fearsome old woman living in the orphanage, Margaret’s former mischief-maker days are soon to become obsolete since gradually she develops affection and care for Carlita.

The other elders in the film include Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy), one of high rank as well as Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), who could have just stepped out of that 1976 movie onto Stevenson’s prequel set. The rest are citizens trapped between worlds, including Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography that creates a unique aesthetic sense of place and time: all colors drained from bright light shots which seem to get their visual inspiration from auteur classics such as The French Connection or Oldboy rather than supernatural horror films; while Italian neo-realism feels cold with its washed-out colors contrasting against grainy hand-held camera-work providing depth within shallow spaces through simple use of framing devices like doorways leading onto surreal compositions where objects float around like they’re suspended mid-air or at least that’s what I remember thinking before waking up this morning after having watched too many movies last night….

One thing one can say about “The First Omen” is Stevenson proves herself to be quite knowledgeable regarding supernatural horror elements, skillfully faking our own opinions while giving rise to mounting paranoia. Rather than creeping audaciously under your skin through subtle insinuations just to weigh down on you with other angles of abuse related trauma as found in most recent ones from today’s genre cinema unfortunately fall into these traps; instead it offers an excellent vintage picture – smartly quick on its feet, stylishly shot and pretty terrifying, with a striking period production design and costuming as well as the type of neorealist mise-en-scene that absorbs viewers completely.

But this does not mean her movie is devoid of any contemporary relevance at all. This is also how “The First Omen” comes across like a serious counterpoint to “Immaculate”, one could argue, in its depiction on how much hypocrisy pervades religion, which has continued to be true since Roe v. Wade whether it be set decades ago during an era long gone by or today’s post roe v wade society. In fact, in “The First Omen,” the painful political loss of bodily autonomy appears so palpable that it gives rise to one of the most horrible child-birth scenes ever witnessed by filmmakers who chose horror as their genre… Maybe this is what pain looks like, possibly even something demonic about it all. The entire thing is so incredible; doesn’t slacken in touch with gory beginnings but gets more unsettlingly beautiful until its last stretches when Peck and Remick would cuddle Damien in “The First Omen.”

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