The First Omen – REVIEW

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The First Omen - so how did Damian come to be?

The Omen (1976) was one of the great blockbuster horrors of its era and instigated a trilogy before the studio couldn’t resist a TV film and then of course the unnecessary remake in 2006. But the obvious thing to do was to make a prequel with the first film having made clear that Damien was swopped at the maternity ward and became the American ambassador’s satanic son. The First Omen is that prequel story that rewinds to its origin in Rome 1971 where the film follows Margaret (Nell Tiger Free)  an American sent there to start her life as a nun.

At the convent where they have their own natal clinic for ‘fallen women’ to give birth – it’s already a hint at where this is going. The convent is also a home for children including a deeply troubled 13 year old who Margaret forms a bond and tries to show her the empathy that the other nuns have not. And yet this all starts off promisingly enough but is almost immediately rendered ludicrous when she meets fellow nun to be Luz ( Maria Caballero) who decides that before she takes her own vows, she should experience a bit of hedonism so that she, ‘knows what I’m missing’. Yes of course every nun after prayer, contemplation and commitment frequently indulges in one last blow out at a Club 18 – 30 event. And its Margaret that she drags along for a night of drinking, dancing and men at a local club – The sound of the audiences collective facepalm echoes loud around the cinema.

But what happens at the club will revert later for Margaret as bit by bit she uncovers a conspiracy within the convent to bring about the birth of evil – their rationale being that the people are turning away from God and that the introduction of evil incarnate will bring the masses to return to the church. In that respect it arguably could be the basis for The Amanda Holden Story. Determined to prevent this is Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson) who informs her that one of the girls at the convent is already being groomed to birth the bastard son of Satan.

All of this occurs over a drawn out over two hours with a story that by the end directly leads into the 1976 film but the film makers here have taken a liberty with the origin story in that the original film makes it quite clear that Damian ( the film bizarrely announces his name towards the end as some sort of shock twist) was borne of a jackal. Those looking for straight up horror set pieces that the original trilogy did so well will be disappointed – there’s a spin on two of the original films death scenes recreated here but that’s about it. The First Omen plays a little like Suspiria meets Rosemary’s Baby and doesn’t match either though not for want of trying and it is sumptuosly shot. The presence of Bill Nighy as a genial Cardinal and the always excellent Ralph Ineson as an Irish priest as well as a cameo from Charles Dance might raise expectations but will soon be dashed as the story unfolds

Co-written by its director Arkasha Stevenson in her feature film debut there are some remarkably tasteless body horror moments in this and arguably its premise is borderline heretical. Marketed as psychological horror The First Omen unfortunately doesn’t really attain either the psychology or the horror of a good horror film and suffers in comparison with the release of the recent similarly themed, ‘Immaculate’. This is now the sixth film in the franchise not forgetting a lame TV series and really The First Omen should now be the last omen that’s made.

Related feature : The story behind the shot – The Omen (1976)

Related feature : Oscar winning make up genius Howard Berger talks about ‘From Dusk til Dawn’ with Tarantino

Here’s The First Omen trailer  …….

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