The First Omen (2024) poster

The First Omen (2024)

Rating:


USA. 2024.

Crew

Director – Arkasha Stevenson, Screenplay – Tim Smith, Arkasha Stevenson & Keith Thomas, Story – Ben Jacoby, Producers – David S. Goyer & Keith Levine, Photography – Aaron Morton, Music – Mark Korven, Visual Effects Supervisor – James Cooper, Visual Effects – Island VFX (Supervisor – Gabriele Ciaccio), Special Effects Supervisor – Maurizio Corridori, Prosthetic & Creature Design – Adrien Morot, Makeup Effects – Morot FX Studio, Production Design – Eve Stewart. Production Company – Phantom Four Films.

Cast

Nell Tiger Free (Margaret Daino), Ralph Ineson (Father Brennan), Sonia Braga (Sister Silva), Bill Nighy (Cardinal Lawrence), Maria Caballero (Luz), Nicole Sorace (Carlita Scianna), Tawfeek Barhom (Father Gabriel), Charles Dance (Father Harris), Ishtar Currie Wilson (Sister Anjelica), Andrea Arcanjeli (Paolo)


Plot

1971. Margaret Daino arrives in Rome, amid social protests in the city, to undertake her vows as a nun. Her roommate Luz drags Margaret out to a disco so that they can experience life before they take their mutual vows. Working in the orphanage, Margaret bonds with the troubled Carlita Scianna. She is approached by the discredited priest Father Brennan who warns her that a rogue faction within the papacy is intending to bring about the birth of the Antichrist in order to draw people back to the church. He claims that Carlita is the intended vessel to give birth to the Antichrist. Margaret starts to believe after she sees the 666 mark on the roof of Carlita’s mouth. She becomes determined to save Carlita from her fate.


The Omen (1976) was one of the runaway hits among the 1970s deviltry and occult fad, tapping Biblical fears about the End Times in its story about the birth of the Antichrist. Its popularity led to three sequels with Damien: Omen II (1978), The Final Conflict (1981) and Omen IV: The Awakening (1991), a tv movie that was released theatrically in some places. The Omen (2006) was a desultory remake, while the short-lived tv series Damien (2016) was a further sequel to the original following Damien through his teenage years. vThe First Omen is a prequel to the events of the first film.

The director is newcomer Arkasha Stevenson who had only previously directed episodic television. She co-writes the script with Keith Thomas who made the extraordinary horror film The Vigil (2019) along with the embarrassment of the remake of Firestarter (2022). The film is co-produced by Davis S. Goyer and his Phantom Four production company. Goyer has a long association with genre material from his script for the Blade films, The Dark Knight (2008) and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), among other works.

Does the world need a prequel to The Omen? No, but we get one anyway. This is essentially the story of the person who gave birth to Damien and the circumstances leading up to the child being given to Gregory Peck at the start of The Omen. The script ties in to many of the details established in The Omen – the name Scianna on the grave, the destruction of the birth records in a fire, while Ralph Ineson’s Father Brennan is meant to be the same character played by Patrick Troughton in the first film. The hugely significant detail that is changed is that in the original Damien is supposed to be born of a jackal but this changes that to have him born of a human mother.

This expands out some of the details of the first film, revealing that there was more than one attempted birth of the Antichrist and several selected mothers. Moreover, the end leaves the intriguing suggestion with the birth of twins that there is a female counterpart of Damien out there somewhere. One of the questions the original always left me with is why the Catholic Church were abetting the coming of the Antichrist but this explains it as being a rogue faction seeking to bring people back to the church. All of this is tied in to social events around the time of the film’s setting with violent political protests and bombings in Italy in the 1970s, culminating in the Red Brigade’s abduction of the prime minister in 1978.

Nell Tiger Free in The Vatican in The First Omen (2024)
Sister Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) in The Vatican

Aside from the prologue where we see Charles Dance killed, The First Omen doesn’t look at all like an Omen film. The scenes in the first 30 minutes with Nell Tiger Free arriving in Rome, settling in to the residence and especially those with worldly roommate Maria Caballero doing very non-nun proscribed things like taking Nell out on the town to a disco all seem more like the stuff of a story about a young sheltered woman coming out of her shell and discovering life.

Even when the horror element arrives, the film still doesn’t resemble much of an Omen film. The Omen and especially the sequels were driven by a series of novelty deaths for those who stood in the way of the Devil Child’s purpose. There are a couple of such scenes here – one in the prologue where shards from a stained glass window falls from a workman’s scaffold and leave a gaping gash in the back of Charles Dance’s head; another where Ishtar Currie Wilson sets herself alight at the same time as she hangs herself from a balcony. Notedly both of these feel like rehashes of famous deaths from the original – Charles Dance’s death is not dissimilar to David Warner’s famous beheading by falling window mixed somewhat with the scene where Patrick Troughton is impaled by a falling spike; while Ishtar Currie Wilson repeats the scene where the nanny hangs herself.

Nevertheless, Akasha Stevenson does come up with a couple of decent novelty deaths of her own. There is the jolt scene where we see a non-human clawed hand forcing its way out of a woman’s vagina. There is also a shock scene where Andrea Arcanjeli is slammed into a wall by a vehicle where Nell Tiger Free goes to comfort him only to realise that the person she is holding in her arms exists only from the torso upwards. There is a later grotesque scene where Nell starts to go into labour in the middle of the street, which kept reminding me of Isabelle Adjani’s meltdown in a Berlin underground station in Possession (1981).

The First Omen takes the basics of the first story and creates something different out of them. It is a character-driven work not dissimilar to Damien: Omen II, which is praised by many as the best of the original trilogy for these very reasons. It is less a film concerned with novelty deaths than it is one women’s journey of self-discovery to a point of Conceptual Breakthrough (which is something I was able to predict coming). There are undeniable similarities to Immaculate (2024), which came out only two weeks before The First Omen – both films feature a woman undergoing her vows, before finding the church has a sinister purpose in making her an unwitting and unwilling receptacle of birth for their sinister purposes. All of which seems surely a clear and direct metaphor for issues of women’s bodily autonomy currently under threat by numerous US states following the Supreme Court Ruling on Roe vs Wade in 2022. In also handing the film over to a woman director, these concerns not too unexpectedly come to the forefront, but what is unforgiveable is that the film has to blatantly rewrite The Omen series’ continuity to make its political point.


Trailer here


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