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'THE FIRST OMEN' REVIEW

BY BECCA JOHNSON APRIL 7, 2024
The First Omen

In a stellar horror film directed by the great Richard Donner in 1976, audiences were introduced to the son of the devil, Damien. The Omen tells the story of US diplomat Robert Thorn, who adopts the newborn baby without the knowledge of his wife. It doesn't take long for strange events to begin taking place, leading to some horrific discoveries and startling imagery that's stuck with audiences since.


The First Omen, a feature debut from director Arkasha Stevenson, is the prequel to the story, teaching us how Damien came to be. Taking a slow and dramatic approach similarly to the original, The First Omen is a shocking, gruesome and meticulously crafted prequel with stellar performances, that compliments the 1976 edition of the franchise perfectly.


SYNOPSIS

A woman starts to question her own faith when she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy to bring about the birth of evil incarnate in Rome.



REVIEW

What makes The Omen so successful, and helps it hold up even today, is the approach it takes. Playing out like a drama that's increasingly unsettling as the run-time progresses, and providing some truly haunting and memorable imagery, it's a classic that many hold in high regard. The First Omen takes a very similar approach to its story, treading lightly and playing out slowly to help build tension. It heavily focuses on the drama aspect and provides a meaty story, developing the characters nicely and providing thorough backstory.


The First Omen isn't a throwaway prequel that merely exists to boost the original, its a deep and involved drama horror hybrid that takes its time with the plot to create an immersive experience that stands well on its own. The slow pace may be grating for some viewers, many may even find it boring at times and the run-time of two hours may not help this. However, the looming sense of dread is tangible and has the power to keep you invested. It's incredibly dark, regularly haunting and its meticulous approach helps those scary scenes stand out even more. Director Arkasha Stevenson does a phenomenal job bringing this story to life, especially for a feature debut. A lot of care has been taken here.


The First Omen

Don't be fooled by the mention of a slow pace; The First Omen is horrifying. The horror is cleverly placed throughout the run-time, delivering spooky sequences often enough to scratch that scary itch. Focusing mostly on body horror, there are some stand-out scenes that are bound to make even the most seasoned horror fans squirm. It's bold with what it chooses to show, featuring one birth scene in particular that truly does not hold back – you see it all.


Just like the original, there are some extremely memorable death scenes, a couple of which pay homage to Donner's 1976 flick in a worthwhile fashion. The 'it's all for you' scene that we all know and love gets a modern update, and is perhaps even more harrowing than the original as it adds another layer of fear into the mix. It does often fall into jump scare territory, as every horror movie of this nature does. However, it's hard to deny how well crafted they are. They play out for an extraordinarily long time, sometimes even taking up one whole scene, making the pay-off even greater. There are a couple of scares that are quite formulaic, but more often than not, they're quite bold and unique. Due to the nature of the plot, with the storyline of bearing the devils baby, be warned for some icky SA scenes. Though it's mostly implied, they may be too much for some.


The best asset of The First Omen for many will be the performances. Leading lady Nell Tiger Free is utterly phenomenal, often holding enough power to help the audience through the slower scenes single-handedly. In just one movie she manages to earn scream queen status, truly transforming as the plot progresses and her characters journey becomes more perilous. Margaret is sent to Rome to begin her life of service, and it doesn't take long for her to notice the darkness that lies within her church which leads her to question her faith. She truly goes through it, and Free is continually believable. There is one scene in particular that many are comparing to Isabelle Adjani's mesmerising turn in Possession (1981) - it's a worthy comparison. We spend a lot of time with Nell Tiger Free's character Margaret, and the thorough character development in the script helps her to shine. Many will want to see more of her in the genre. The side performances are also good, particularly from Bill Nighy and Ralph Ineson. That being said, they are severely underutilised which is a great shame, as what they do deliver is great. Sonia Braga is expertly haunting as Sister Silvia and young Nicole Sorace is memorably creepy.


The First Omen

The First Omen shines from a technical standpoint. The camera-work from Aaron Morton is exemplary, utilising zooms, pans and drawn-out static shots that force you to spend time with the uncomfortable imagery for far longer than you'd want to. Not only does this compliment the slow burning plot, but feels very reminiscent of old-school cinematography from 70's horror. The score is almost as mesmerising as the visuals, matching the tone flawlessly and becoming memorable in itself. It's noticeably loud and uncomfortably eerie, sending a shiver down your spine as it should. The First Omen is rife with religious horror imagery and again, time is taken to make it look the part. The costuming is gorgeous, the set design is remarkable and it allows you to spend time in the city of Rome outside of its church setting. It feels so 70's with the costumes, colours and clever addition of political intrigue that was happening at the time.


There is no denying that The First Omen is slow, and it's understandable why some viewers are even going as far as saying it is boring. That being said, many will appreciate the time it takes to develop the characters, setting and story-line full of deep themes, political intrigue and church practices. The First Omen is a prequel that goes harder than many were expecting. Standing on its own two feet, it's unique, whilst simultaneously flowing so nicely with the original. The performances are astounding especially from lead Nell Tiger Free, the cinematography is consistently engaging the horror is bold, effective and often shocking, and the story shines. The First Omen is mostly a triumph, yet had it squashed its run-time a bit or allowed Ineson and Nighy to do a little more, it would've been even better.


STAR RATING

Rating The First Omen

THE FIRST OMEN IS OUT NOW IN CINEMAS

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