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‘The First Omen’ - religious horror done right


A chapel surrounded by darkness. A shadowy figure stands in a box of light shaped like a cross.
Ben Hurney / THE GATEPOST

By Jesse Burchill

Staff Writer


The horror film “The First Omen” was released on April 5. It serves as a prequel to the 1976 horror classic “The Omen” and is the sixth entry in the franchise. 


Set in Rome in 1971, “The First Omen” focuses on Margaret, a young woman sent to become a nun at a church-run orphanage in Rome. 


However, she uncovers a conspiracy backed by the Catholic church - radicals are planning to bring about the birth of the Antichrist - namely, Damien Thorne from the first film - in the name of consolidating its power in the face of increasing secularism.  


Nell Tiger Free is front and center as Margaret, who’s been a ward of the church her entire life and just arrived at the abbey where the conspiracy is headquartered to become a nun. 


Free gets the newcomer part down pat, and her character comes across as a genuinely kind person, strengthened by her bonds with her roomate Luz and the frequently-punished teenager Carlita, who seems involved somehow in the Antichrist’s rebirth. 


Margaret has a genuinely good relationship with the church, and this sets up how it’s utterly shattered later on. Margaret’s discovery of the church’s plans for the Antichrist make us feel as confused and horrified as her, and Free sells her character perfectly.


Ralph Ineson, known for his iconic deep voice, is no stranger to horror and appears as the excommunicated Father Brennan, a character from the original film who here is trying to stop the Antichrist’s birth from happening. 


Ineson plays the role of such a desperate clergyman with ease, and his worries about the conspiracy are palpable. However, Ineson’s voice can make some of his dialogue tough to make out.


Since “The First Omen” is a prequel, we know that it will end in Damien being born. As such, we know that the heroes will fail in their effort to prevent Damien’s birth - alongside a couple confusing narrative choices, one could think that this could reduce the film’s scare factor.


Don’t second guess. Being a prequel does not prevent “The First Omen” from being a truly horrifying movie.


The film leaves its mark from the very first scene, where Father Harris, implied to be complicit in the conspiracy, dies in front of Father Brennan from a head injury caused by a falling pipe. An uncanny score and a possible reference to Brennan’s death in the original sets the tone for the rest of the film.


The cinematography, lighting, and music work well together to make a foreboding and increasingly oppressive atmosphere, especially in scenes set at night. The music at times sounds like it’s taken right out of the stargate sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and yet feels right at home in this film.


The nightmarish setting is not at all helped by the actions of the abbey’s staff - namely, those who Margaret thought she could trust growing increasingly hostile toward her, as she tries desperately to save Carlita and herself, both at the center of the church’s plan, from the throes of its darkest secret.


Finally, the church’s Antichrist plot is horrific enough on its own, but manages to get worse when we learn more - since the 1950s, women were arranged by the church to be raped and impregnated by a jackal demon implied to be the Devil himself. 


The goal of this is producing a female child who in the film’s present can then give birth to the male Antichrist, once again with the Devil as the father.


The idea of a conspiracy like this being sanctioned by the Catholic church - even if only by radicals - for literal decades is truly terrifying to behold, especially when considering the real-life horrors that the church has been complicit in, such as the sex abuse scandal exposed by The Boston Globe in 2002.


In the end, “The First Omen” proves itself to be a horror prequel done right - an original story, concrete connections to the original, and genuine frights along the way.


Rating: A-

You’re going to need holy water

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