Today: May 21, 2024

The First Omen

Last year, David Gordon Green followed up his underrated Halloween legacy trilogy with an ill-fated attempt at a sequel to The Exorcist. The film was ultimately a lesson in how not to reboot an iconic horror franchise – it captured absolutely nothing of what made the original film so special, and lacked any sort of identity of its own. Soulless jump scares and schlock meant the film was an insult to its source, and the critical panning it received was entirely warranted. Now, another demonic 1970s horror property is revived and the results could not be more different. The First Omen is one of the best horror films in years.

Taking place before the 1976 masterpiece, this chilling prequel charts the horrific series of events that led to Damien’s birth. Nell Tiger Free (Game of Thrones) is Margaret, an American novitiate who arrives in Rome to begin a quiet life of religious service at a Catholic orphanage. But as she builds a friendship with a mistreated orphan, unusual occurrences begin to plague Margaret and it soon becomes clear that something truly evil is coming.

Deliberately paced and impeccably edited, The First Omen is a film that rewards patience. For the bulk of its runtime, the film is incredibly understated in its quiet, foreboding dread – there are very few ‘jumps’ or loud frights. Here is a film far more interested in getting under your skin, which is certainly refreshing. Everything about The First Omen, from its visuals through its editing and pace, feels so authentically 1970s – if it weren’t for some recognisable stars in the cast, one could easily be convinced that this is a lost 70s classic that has been discovered. This approach certainly oozes love for the source; director Arkasha Stevenson (making her feature directorial debut) clearly cares deeply for the original film and for 1970s horror in general. The direction is incredible throughout – there are many distressing sequences of true horror that will linger long in the mind after the credits roll. Indeed, the film truly pushes the 15 rating to its very limit as some of the content here is genuinely disturbing. Stevenson’s remarkable direction gives these grisly moments maximum impact.

Without giving anything away, the film’s final act features some truly harrowing imagery and unforgettable moments that will haunt your nightmares – and it is here that Nell Tiger Free’s lead performance goes from great to awards-worthy. Her performance is absolutely outstanding, and should be celebrated as one of the finest and most commanding performances in the horror genre in a long, long time. An uncomfortably disturbing homage to Possession towards the end of the film will not soon be forgotten. A solid supporting cast includes Bill Nighy, and a career-best Ralph Ineson as the troubled Father Brennan (played by Patrick Troughton in the original classic).

The First Omen is impeccable. The film is beautifully constructed from top to bottom; the film is flawless on a technical level. The visuals and editing are absolutely magnificent in their 1970s authenticity, the direction is magnificent, and the performances are stellar. One minor misstep comes in the final scene – it is perhaps a little laughably heavy-handed in a certain name drop, and one narrative retcon might rub fans the wrong way. But this issue is so negligible against the rest of the film which is nothing short of masterful. 

The First Omen is one of the best horror films in years, and a masterclass in how to revive a beloved horror franchise. The Antichrist is back. Praise be. 

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