The First Omen Review: A harrowing spiral into the heart of darkness

Ro 9
Arkasha Stevenson's feature debut, The First Omen, starring an otherworldly Nell Tiger Free, delivers a trauma-inducing return to The Omen universe


Richard Donner's The Omen (1976) follows American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) as he investigates his adopted son’s, Damien, background once tragedy befalls those close to him. Thorn's quest for answers ultimately leads him to Italy and the unsettling revelation that his son may be the Antichrist. Sadly the subsequent installments never quite duplicated the impact of the first chapter in this genre-disrupting religious horror saga. So he idea of a compelling legacy-prequel seems like a non-starter. Well, director and co-writer Arkasha Stevenson would like a word. Because, The First Omen is an absolute master class on how to create a stunning in-canon prequel to a horror classic.

Fresh Eyes Brings Fresh Perspective on the Horrific

Stevenson's feature debut follows Margaret (Nell Tiger Free), a young American novitiate, as she arrives in Rome, Italy (1971) to complete her probationary period at a Roman orphanage before taking vows. For those new to the Omen universe, this prequel is a fresh-eyed, gnarly lure into the dark and twisted world of religious horror and one of the foundational storylines in the genre. Margaret encounters Carlita (Nicole Sorace), a troubled orphan, living in practical isolation. Reminded of her own turbulent childhood, she befriends the young girl in the hopes of acting as her champion. As increasingly disturbing happenings swirl around Carlita, Margaret stumbles into a dark and gruesome unfolding conspiracy. Just as Margaret connects with Carlita, a rogue priest (Ralph Ineson) approaches, demanding her help. He's on the hunt for proof of a plot by a corrupt sect within the Church. Margaret soon second-guessing herself. Nowhere is safe.

Unlike in The Omen, the women carry the bulk of the plot development. Tiger Free's Margaret is a convicing mix of ingénue and fervent acolyte. Shifting the story progression to her point of view adds layers to the terror of being in a new city, trying to integrate into an established social dynamic and feeling unsettled by a sense of danger dogging your every step. Stevenson relies less on the obvious jumpscares and more on discomfort, paranoia and the pay off is utterly next level. 

The First Omen breathes menacing new life into religious horror 

Under Stevenson's direction The First Omen comfortably resides at the intersection of fanatical secret societies and unholy dark arts. From the period-accurate production design and costuming, to the religious iconography and symbolism deftly sets the stage for a harrowing spiral into the heart of darkness with precision. Cinematographer Aaron Morton employs an earthy color palette and savvy use of light, shadow, and scene staging ably assisting Stevenon’s unabashed commitment to blending its paranoid-thriller and supernatural horror roots into a trauma-inducing story. Through a combination of awkward physicality, unworldliness, and bouts of inexplicable agitation Tiger Free creates a captivating picture of a woman pushed to the absolute brink.  There's an increasingly demented energy of danger driven by the score and sound desighn that, alongside her character development, that acts as razor then thin tether to realty and a visually entralling fever dream. 

Listen as Ro and special guest Richard Newby discuss (spoiler-free) the thematically rich and incisive allegories baked into The First Omen

The First Omen opens in theaters, April 5, 2024

Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Writers: Tim Smith, Arkasha Stevenson, Keith Thomas
Starring: Nell Tiger Free, Tawfeek Barhom, Sonia Braga, Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy
Runtime:  2 Hours

Synopsis: A young American woman is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church, where she encounters a darkness that outs her own faith in jepardy, 

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