'The First Omen': A dark and refreshing prequel to a horror classic | Movie Review

The First Omen
Posters of 'The First Omen'. Photo: IMDb

When Richard Donner's 'The Omen' was released, a few likely questioned the origins of this sinister child, or simply put, the antichrist. Nowadays, the horror genre is dominated by sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, as seen with franchises like The Conjuring, Insidious, and The Evil Dead, among others. 'The Omen' was no exception, spawning several sequels, and some might argue that none could quite live up to the original film.

So, did 'The Omen' truly need a prequel? The answer is yes. Enter 'The First Omen', directed by Arkasha Stevenson. This newest instalment in The Omen series serves as a prequel to the 1976 film, exploring the origins of the sinister child, Damien.

The movie centres on young American novitiate Margaret (Nell Tiger Free), who arrives in Rome and quickly forms a bond with teenager Carlita (Nicole Sorace). However, Margaret soon discovers that something truly sinister is happening at the convent where they are residing.

While many sequels or prequels to cult classic horror films often turn out to be disappointing, it's likely that viewers approached 'The First Omen' with low expectations. The first half-hour of the movie bears some resemblance to films like 'The Nun' or 'Sister Death,' but that's where the similarities end. After that, all hell breaks loose in the movie. You quickly realize that this isn't just another predictable jump-scare demon nun film; something much darker is unfolding. Given that the movie explores Damien's origin, it's no surprise that it's dark and gory.

The movie is set in 1970s Rome, and the colour palettes used effectively transport us back in time. The film is also set during a period of significant political unrest, and Stevenson skilfully captures how such turbulent times could give rise to something truly evil. The movie also explores the historical and ongoing issue of women being viewed as entities to be controlled, often subjected to torture as if their pain or consent is inconsequential. For instance, there are multiple scenes depicting Margaret or Carlita being shunned or overpowered, all in the name of the "greater good." When they attempt to assert their independence, they are dismissed as "mentally ill."

For a horror movie to truly resonate with audiences, relying solely on jump scares and traditional ghost tropes isn't enough. There needs to be a deeper, more sinister element that gets under your skin, and 'The First Omen' delivers on that front. The film features deeply unsettling scenes. For instance, childbirth, often considered a beautiful experience despite its pain, is depicted in the most grotesque manner possible, making audience wish those scenes ended quickly.

That said, the movie is not without its shortcomings. At times, it becomes a bit too predictable or lacks the necessary dramatic impact. For instance, the climax of the movie could have been more terrifying, given the particular events that unfold.

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret breathes fresh life into the film and delivers a convincing performance. In the movie's early sequences, one would never anticipate the level of gore she will have to endure later on. While it's impossible to directly compare with the 1976 original, this movie stands out as a refreshing addition in a world filled with uninspired franchise films. For those who truly appreciated the 1976 'The Omen', this movie is unlikely to disappoint and actually offers some unexpected twists.

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