Horror Movie Review: The First Omen (2024)

Prequel films are very rarely a good idea, but prequels to iconic horror films are almost always the worst idea. Often, the sign of a tired franchise that is looking for one last attempt to grab some cash, and often, the sign of the end times for said tired franchise.

In rare occasions, a prequel film results in something solid, but in the rarest of occasions, it results in something good. The First Omen is one of those rarest occasions, that respectfully works to broaden the story of the franchise, retains the heretical dread of the original, and adds enough elements to make it feel like its own film. Even if it does suffer from some bloat here and there, and suffers from a horror landscape blighted by an exhausting array of similar supernatural horrors.

Directed by Arkasha Stevenson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Smith and Keith Thomas from a story by Ben Jacoby. The First Omen is, unsurprisingly, a prequel to the 1976 classic, The Omen (read our review here). Which was followed by the 1878 sequel, Damien – Omen II (read our review here) and the 1981 film, Omen III: The Final Conflict (read our review here).

In 1991, there was an attempt to ‘restart’ the franchise and take it in a different direction with Omen IV: The Awakening (read our review here). An attempt that failed, resulting in the franchise disappearing until 2006, when we got a pointless remake of the original. 18 years after that, the antichrist is trying to be born again.

Starring Nell Tiger Free, Sônia Braga, Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy, and Nicole Sorace. The First Omen doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, story-wise, as we all know the antichrist, Damien, is born. Instead, it chooses to delve deeper into the plot surrounding his birth and the circumstances that led to the events of the original film.

Set in Rome, 1971, Margaret is a novitiate brought to the country from America by her long-standing mentor, Cardinal Lawrence. She is to become a nun, working at the Vizzardeli Orphanage during a time of failing faith in the Church as left-wing protests erupt across the city.

At the Orphanage, Margaret meets her roommate and fellow novitiate Luz, and also meets the young girl, Carlita. The latter is mistreated by the nuns and shunned by the other children because she is deemed to be sick, based off the disturbing visions she has. Margaret is understanding though, because she herself was plagued with similar issues when she was growing up.

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However, her attempts to bond with Carlita are not welcomed by the nuns, and get the attention of Father Brennan. He believes that there is a deep-rooted conspiracy within the church to ‘fight back’ against the rise of secularism by bringing about the Antichrist to create fear and drive people back to the church. Who will birth the antichrist? Carlita, of course. Something Margaret simply can’t believe, until she begins to dig deeper.

As stated already, there isn’t much in the way of surprises in The First Omen, even though there is a half-hearted attempt to misdirect the viewer. Half-hearted because it’s a misdirection that can be seen coming a mile away. Though, thanks to the strong cast, it doesn’t diminish the impact it aims to have. If there is one major takeaway from The First Omen, it is the strength of the cast. Nell Tiger Free is phenomenal as Margaret, but she is supported by a litany of familiar and fresh faces.

Alongside that is the impressive work that went into making this film feel authentically 70s. From the locations, cars, outfits, behaviours, and more, The First Omen looks great. There are many great shots, and there is a heavy gothic feel hanging over the entire film.

Of course, this being an Omen film, horror is important and while it does have traditional scares here and there, it does take that side of things in some different directions. Most notably, body horror and how jarringly intense some of those specific scenes are. Some may find them too jarring, as they feel at odds with the layers of uncomfortable tension the film works to create, but most will agree that they are certainly bold.

It’s a film that needed to be bold though as anything else would have been lacklustre, especially when coming back to the roots of a franchise that is nearly 50-years-old. Even then, some audacious moments in a film aren’t going to be enough to make an entry stand out. It’s when these moments are paired with other positives that the film can proudly stand on its own two feet.

Of course, it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s not even close. It’s hard to get invested in a story when you already know the outcome, but that’s the curse of all prequels. Alongside that, there are two points where it felt like the film could end, and it would be fine, but to put a bow on top of things, it continues when it didn’t necessarily have to.

Perhaps The First Omen’s biggest problem though pertains to horror in general and how desensitised many will have come to supernatural horror elements and nuns. We’re not quite back to the heady days of nunsploitation, but we’ve had a few in recent years and The First Omen doesn’t add anything fresh there.

Does that make it a bad film though? Of course not. It’s very easy to have low expectations for a prequel to one of the most iconic horror films ever made, but it’s also easy to give credit where it’s due when the result turns out to be good. Which is very much the case here.


  • Carl Fisher

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The First Omen (2024)
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