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  • Nate Adams

'The First Omen' review: Demonic prequel revives dormant franchise


Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

 

Nobody ever needs a prequel, let alone one to Richard Donner’s 1976 horror staple “The Omen.” But occasionally, a filmmaker with an imagination makes the case for reviving a franchise, even if said franchise squandered its pop culture relevance with an ill-fated 2006 remake (who doesn’t remember that marketing? 6-6-6) and a TV show nobody watched. It may have taken almost a decade, but now the studio is going back to the beginning with the timely, smart, and sturdy “The First Omen” which breathes new life into a series most had already forgotten about. 


Built on suspense rather than cheap thrills, “The First Omen,” is crafted and written with more care and appreciation than most horror remakes, and I’d argue it’s in a tougher spot considering audiences know how it’s going to end. The film has more gravatas, and artful flair than most would anticipate and that it hails from first time filmmaker Arkasha Stevenson, making the leap from the small screen, is all the more impressive. The film glows with that classic 35mm sheen while managing to forge its own demented path forward (not to mention the use of practical effects as it relates towards body horror is a real cinematic treat). 


“The First Omen” rewinds the clocks back to 1971 where we meet Margaret (Nell Tiger Free - incredible) who has just landed in Rome to begin a life of religious servitude. She had a tough upbringing and was moved from various orphanages throughout her childhood and suffered from psychotic breakdowns that gave her nightmarish visions. When she arrives at her new home in the idyllic countryside, she begins having a terrible sense of unease and the lines between reality start getting blurred, and further investigation reveals a dark, sinister plan, involving the birth of the antichrist of course, to lure people back to the church. 


Similar to Sydney Sweeney’s takedown of catholic culture in “Immaculate,” which itself was borrowing elements from “The Omen,” Stevenson puts a lot of emphasis on female autonomy and captures the horrors of childbirth with a sickening edge. It’s not gory, or exploitative and instead keeps the attention on the church’s behavior and how we ended up here. “The First Omen” isn’t interested in religious fantasies or putting the fear of God into unsuspecting audiences, it wants to provide a startling, sometimes brutal metaphor for how these megachurches operate by their own set of rules. 


Even within the confines of a screenplay (co-written by Stevenson, Keith Thomas, and Tim Smith), that already had a predestined endgame, “The First Omen” still finds ways of surprising the audience and using what we know against us (which sort of tee’s up a final moment reminiscent of an “Avengers” post credit sequence, suggesting Stevenson could play in this sandbox again). It’s also a clumsy roadblock in an otherwise enjoyable feast of the eyes. The attempts to throw a bait-and-switch midway through the movie doesn't work for obvious reasons and then there are times where you’ve probably already figured out where it’s going and thus, you’re just waiting for the characters to catch up. 


Nevertheless, “The First Omen” still serves as a solid addition to the series and even if it’s sometimes overshadowed by what has come before, the final product proves you can cultivate genuine thrills and suspense when a clear vision aligns with a screenplay that’s unafraid of pushing some buttons. 


Grade: B 


THE FIRST OMEN is now playing in theaters. 


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