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‘The First Omen’ Review: The Devil Is In The Details In Gory Nun’s Story Prequel To 1976 Original

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I am not sure the world asked for yet another take on 20th Century Fox’s Omen franchise, the constantly regurgitated series with Damien (who made the numbers 666 iconic) and company. Since the 1976 original, when Damien first appeared in the movie with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, we have had Damien: Omen II, The Final Conflict, Omen IV: The Awakening (in which a girl becomes the antichrist for the first time), the 2006 remake The Omen, and even a 2016 Damien TV series. Of course, like all these horror franchises, it is inevitable someone would come up with the idea for an origin story, and that is what we now have with The First Omen, which is, of course, not the first, just the latest. But, set in 1971, it does attempt to take us right to the doorstep of the actual first, the Richard Donner-directed 1976 starter.

The past few months have been quite ripe for the devil, incarnating with the box office disappointment reboot The Exorcist: Believer; the clever and fresh Late Night With The Devil, which imagines a network talk show being possessed by Satan; and Immaculate (which offered tickets for $6.66 in a box office promotion this week), with Sydney Sweeney as a nun caught up in a demonized immaculate conception Now comes First Omen, which shares some similarity with the latter in that it centers on a novitiate targeted for pregnancy and caught up in dark and mysterious circumstances surrounding several pregnancies in the Roman orphanage where she goes before becoming a nun.

Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) is at the center of this particular universe, an American woman, once an orphan herself, who comes to Italy to begin her service to God but gets caught up in circumstances that will eventually explain just how — and why — Damien would emerge. In many ways this film, directed by Arkasha Stevenson, who also co-wrote the script, is even less a horror film for most of its running time and more of a kind of ’70s-style psychological paranoid thriller, and with no small debt to Roman Polanski’s 1968 Rosemary’s Baby.

It is stylish, scary at times, and quite familiar as it takes on those in the Catholic hierarchy who feel they are losing the younger generation and need to find a way to change the trajectory with an extreme exercise that becomes a dance with the devil. Margaret is a shy young woman who only very slowly realizes there is more here than meets the eye. Her roommate, on the other hand, is a real live wire named Luz Velez (played with spirit by Maria Caballero) who doesn’t act like a nun in training and in fact has lived quite a life and urges Margaret to loosen up, even by going to a nightclub with her where she meets a man, an event that eventually becomes a turning point for her as things get really dark.

Margaret also takes a liking to Carlita (Nicole Sorace), a teen orphan with whom she personally identifies. Ralph Ineson, a fine actor, turns up as Father Brennan, a character in the 1976 original, who is ex-communicated and trying to warn Margaret of some weird circumstances and dangerous goings-on in the place.

Among the rest of the cast, Bill Nighy, as always, is a standout, playing the powerful Cardinal Lawrence who at one time was the priest at the orphanage. Veteran Brazilian star Sonia Braga plays the suffer-no-fools Sister Silva, the Abbess of the orphanage, and adds her special brand of fire to the proceedings. The Rome locations are welcome, and while Mark Korven’s score certainly doesn’t top Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning 1976 original, it does tip its hat and echoes it in parts, even to the use of Goldsmith’s haunting Oscar-nominated song “Ave Satani.”

Although this is a well-worn genre, and the Omen franchise is nearing a half-century old now, the Italian setting and an excellent cast make this all worthwhile for fans looking to see how it all began, even if the nun-in-distress subgenre is getting to be fairly predictable. The First Omen isn’t for the squeamish, and it builds to its obvious crescendo just like you might expect, but still it is well-crafted enough to be an intriguing entry into the series that had no where else to go but, uh, backwards. Whether the First Omen is also finally the last Omen, time — and box office — will tell.

Producers are David S. Goyer and Keith Levine.

Title: The First Omen
Distributor: 20th Century Films/Walt Disney Studios
Release date: April 5, 2024
Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Screenwriter: Tim Smith & Arkasha Stevenson and Keith Thomas; story by Ben Jacoby
Cast: Nell Tiger Free, Bill Nighy, Ralph Ineson, Sonia Braga, Maria Caballero, Nicole Sorace, Tawfeek Barhom
Rating: R
Running time: 2 hr 0 min

Content Source: deadline.com

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