The First Omen Review – IGN

The First Omen: A Prequel Worth Watching

More moviegoers in 2024 may know The Omen by reputation than from firsthand experience. It’s not that the 1976 horror classic about a little boy who turns out to be the antichrist isn’t a great movie, but despite spawning multiple sequels and revival attempts, it just hasn’t had the same pop-culture resonance or staying power as, say, its contemporary The Exorcist. So the prospect of an in-canon prequel to the original film feels a bit strange – and yet that prequel, The First Omen, works, thanks to a clear directorial vision, a strong central performance, and some gnarly visuals.

The Harrowing Experiences of The First Omen

This is one hell of a calling card (pun intended) for director and co-writer Arkasha Stevenson, who makes her feature debut chronicling the harrowing ordeal that befalls young American novitiate Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) in a Roman orphanage. The film goes all in on its dark storyline and imagery as Margaret forges a connection with the teenage Carlita (Nicole Sorace), a particularly troubled orphan who’s prone to violence, reminding her newfound protector of her own turbulent childhood. As ominous signs and strange behavior swirl around Carlita, Stevenson and cinematographer Aaron Morton provide a technical flair that evokes the cinema of The First Omen’s 1970s period setting. But they don’t try to mimic that style from start to finish – though obliged to lay the groundwork for 50 years of movies and TV shows about the sinister Damien Thorn, Stevenson’s movie is, thankfully, allowed to have its own identity.

Graphic and Terrifying Moments

It’s evident in the standout sequence where Margaret joins her roommate, Luz (Maria Caballero), for a night of rather un-nun-like behavior. Stevenson and Morton stylishly capture Margaret’s buzzed point of view and state of mind in the midst of a busy Italian club whose atmosphere grows menacing and unsettling. It’s a welcome escalation in a story that begins sluggishly but picks up momentum in its second half. The First Omen can also be a rough watch at points, delving even deeper into motifs and analogies of bodily autonomy than the recently released, similarly themed Immaculate. Yet Stevenson’s depiction of a woman’s body being controlled and invaded by others doesn’t feel exploitative as much as it is forthright about the horror of Margaret and Carlita’s predicament.

A Standout Performance

The cast are all very good, but this is an especially terrific spotlight for Free. The Game of Thrones and Servant alum is excellent here, in a role that asks quite a lot of her. Margaret is a woman of faith, doing her best to lead a pious existence despite some curiosity about a more conventional path in life. The events of The First Omen put her through the wringer, both emotionally and physically, and Free skillfully conveys all of these challenges and how Margaret changes to meet them. Veteran actors Sônia Braga and Bill Nighy (the latter popping in and out of the movie at random) exude expected gravitas as church leaders, and Caballero brings the right edgy-yet-likable vibe to Luz, who is determined to push the boundaries of novitiate behavior. Sorace manages to combine the unsettling yet vulnerable traits that help Margaret connect with Carlita while Ralph Ineson also brings some great frenetic energy as Father Brennan, who has quite a bit of important information for Margaret about what is occurring and why.

Connections to The Original Omen

I recently watched The Omen for the first time since I was a kid – and its sequels and remake for the first time ever – and would say having the original film in mind while watching The First Omen adds a cool layer to the experience. It’s definitely not essential though, and you won’t be confused if you don’t know that movie, as The First Omen delivers a story that works without any of the background. As the movie nears its conclusion, the connections become more overt, including some pieces of information that look to recontextualize some accepted facts in the original in a way that I suspect will prove divisive amongst Damien’s most committed disciples.

The Future of The Omen

Brennan is also notable as the one major character connection to the original Omen, where Patrick Troughton played the role of the priest who desperately tries to warn Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn that, whoops, he’d adopted the antichrist. In that regard, the end of The First Omen is both amusing and also slightly eye-roll inducing. It looks to both seamlessly lead into the original’s events and set up further entries in the franchise, all without contradicting the earlier films. There’s definitely some silliness at play in how these elements are intertwined, but there’s also something entertaining in the realization that of course Disney and 20th Century Studios wouldn’t go through all the trouble of reviving The Omen without plans for making more of them.