Film, Film Review

REVIEW: The First Omen (2024) dir. Arkasha Stevenson

Ave Prequelis


Arkasha Stevenson’s directorial debut, The First Omen, is a visually stunning horror prequel that offers haunting imagery, a harrowing score, startling kills, and clever homages to the 1976 Richard Donner classic. Though it begins promising, this demonic prologue struggles in its final act.

In 1971, Massachusetts native Margaret Daino (Nell Tiger Free) is sent to Rome as a novice, weeks away from taking her vows to become a nun. She’s greeted by lifelong guardian Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy), who guides her through the riot-filled streets of the Italian capital. They arrive at the Vizzardeli Orphanage , overseen by ominous abbess Sister Silvia (Sônia Braga), who welcomes Margaret in and introduces her to the girls and other nuns. Though unnerved by the isolation room in the orphanage, troubled orphan Carlita Skianna, and deeply disturbing visions, Margaret tries to have a positive effect on the girls at the abbey. It’s not long before the fervent and well-meaning Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson) approaches her.

He warns the young nun-to-be of a deeply evil conspiracy that’s growing within the Catholic church—and that she may be smack in the middle of it.

The First Omen is a beautifully shot modern horror that implements seventies-era tracking shots and impeccable costume design. The opening of the film is its strongest, inspired by the traumatizing, gruesome death of Father Brennan in Donner’s original and the nightmare sequence of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Margaret’s visions—from flashes of grinning, burnt corpses to old nuns rushing the screen—are meticulous and cleverly paced to create a disturbing feature.

Composer Mark Korven’s (The Witch) score slithers beneath your skin and burrows there. His ghoulish soundtrack compliments the dizzying, overhead shots of Rome. The score becomes a character itself, perfectly complementing the shadows dancing menacingly across the abbey walls.

Where The First Omen lacks is in its writing.

If someone makes another Omen film, it should be titled The Omen: For The Love Of God, Somebody Listen to Father Brennan. In every film—original, remake, prequel, whatever—nobody listens to him. In this film, Margaret’s continued ignorance of both Father Brennan’s warnings and her visions makes her unlikable.

By the final act, the film begins to crumble. Straying from true Omen style, we’re presented with a plot twist that promotes hope and heroism in our main character, promoting her as a “strong woman” against the Catholic church. By implementing Margaret’s character arc, Stevenson disrupts the narrative legacy of Donner’s original. While I understand and support the sentiment Stevenson was trying to portray, it’s misplaced in the Omen universe and comes off as forced and cheesy.

If you want hope, go pop on the director’s cut of The Exorcist.

The First Omen is an entertaining, worthy prequel that serves up stunning, chilling imagery that stays with you. I just wish they’d been a little more daring and gone for the paralyzing despair that the other Omen films radiate.

The First Omen
dir. Arkasha Stevenson
120 min.

Opens Friday, 4/5 @ Somerville Theatre, Apple Cinemas Cambridge, and theaters everywhere

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