The First Omen (2024)

The First Omen (2024) Directed by Arkasha Stevenson

Many unspecific thoughts will pervade your imagination as you watch Arkasha Stevenson’s unlikely prequel – but likely sequel – The First Omen. Many of these are intriguing, but the one that struck me the most was the initial thought that swayed me to believe that I was witnessing a tremendous, solitary horror feature about the unnerving, carnally instinctual externalization experienced by a bewildered young American novitiate upon her arrival at a religious orphanage in Rome. When I saw the exceptional Nell Tiger Free playing the American novitiate Margaret with womanly compassion, youthful naivety and religious guilt, I knew that The First Omen was going to be a terrific prequel without being a prequel. Lamentably, my assumption only served the purpose of a hoax because in the end Arkasha Stevenson’s film is indeed a prequel, but holy smokes, I think it’s the prequeliest prequel of them all.

When the sobering first act sets up a sort of nun coming of age situation that unfolds in Rome during the Years of Lead, and the plot is more about Margaret than The Omen, Arkasha Stevenson’s filmmaking is at its best self-discovery mode. When the film completely neglects this – which occurs starting with the futile CGI self-immolation scene involving a nun – Arkasha Stevenson’s moviemaking goes into full prequel mode, and a very lousy one at that, but I’ll get to that in more detail later on. The thing is that I would have loved to see a movie about Nell Tiger Free’s Margaret dancing around emancipated and entranced in that steamy sequence in the bar exploring her sexuality while grappling with the inner paradox of her Christian morality rather than a movie about The Omen. I recognize that I sound overly delusional in stating that, as this is a movie that unambiguously sells itself as a prequel to The Omen and not the aforementioned, so that shouldn’t be a flaw per se. Alright, I accept that, it’s a prequel, but does it really function as a prequel?

To begin with, it’s a compelling Rosemary’s Baby knock-off – though Immaculate, released the same year, managed to do it better – yet that’s not only its intended storytelling template, it’s also a feeble simulacrum of the secular and ecclesiastical debate featured with consummate cinematic eloquence in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Whatever traces of authenticity may have been specified in the iconoclastic arty panorama of the magnificent first portion of The First Omen they are ultimately pulverized once the praxis is exposed as imitation. Up to this point, The First Omen for my money remains a torpid but handsomely shot horror flick, however when the impetuous drive to reference Richard Donner’s film at every goddamn turn becomes ubiquitous in the imitative staging, this is when for me the film turns into a joke of its own. There is an exasperating urgency to hint at the macabre artistry of Richard Donner’s The Omen. Which leads me to mention the gravest, most unpardonable sin committed by this unnecessary film made by gifted but not yet fully intelligent filmmakers: if they are so interested in signaling Donner’s film, why didn’t they even consider studying its mythology?

Much has been mooted about the re-mythologizing endeavor that The First Omen offers as a prequel; to me, that mythological refashioning was nothing more than a bald-faced act of slothfulness. Let’s get this straight, Damien is the antichrist, birthed by a female jackal, not Margaret, and no, you’re not going to convince me that the carcass Gregory Peck and David Warner unearth in the 1976 film in that breathtakingly eerie graveyard scene is the same creature that pops up in The First Omen, because what they fuzzily reveal in this film is not a jackal, it’s the fucking devil. This essentially turns The First Omen into a spurious prequel, which not only has the nerve to disregard the mythology already entrenched by the undisputed classic but also has the gall to twist it as it pleases in the most preposterous manner. Can you imagine watching the Star Wars prequels and all of a sudden George Lucas tells you that Darth Vader was never really Luke’s father? That would be incoherent, lazy and idiotic re-mythologizing of an old, well-known story. Well, The First Omen wants me to forget my favorite scene in Richard Donner’s The Omen just because the filmmakers couldn’t come up with anything coherent to cement the necessary connection between two movies that are meant to come from the same storytelling geography.

Social upheaval of the Years of Lead, apocalyptic notions, female emancipation, predicaments of a secular society, satanism, sexuality and moral theology. This is all the wealth that The First Omen possesses and could have fleshed out, but instead opted to pour all its efforts into, jump scares, a Gregory Peck pic, CGI blazing, endless gratuitous references, a non-Jerry Goldsmith Ave Satani and a god-awful cheesy finale.


Matteo Bedon

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Editor and Official Film Critic at

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