The First Omen Review – A First Attempt That Promises A Bright Future

We live in an era right now where every somewhat notable horror movie from the past needs to get a legacy sequel of some sort. And I know this trend isn’t exclusive to the horror genre, but where else would you get a masterpiece like The Exorcist: Believer? David Gordon Green is really delivering the goods here in ways that other genres just don’t have the privilege of experiencing, but I digress. What I was going to say is that, as common as legacy sequels are, I can’t think of too many legacy prequels, which I suppose makes The First Omen stand out a little bit. What might be more noteworthy is that this is now the third horror movie this year to deal with the topic of bodily autonomy after the other nunsploitation film a few weeks prior, Immaculate, and the upcoming Cuckoo that I happened to catch at Berlinale earlier this year. Unsurprising given recent political events. But the real reason I had my eyes on this was, of course, the trailer that might be a strong early contender for trailer of the year. You know the one if you’ve seen it, with the reverse footage. But does the movie actually live up to that, and does it go beyond the average legacy horror sequel?

A young woman who has devoted her life to God arrives in Rome to join the local convent. She’s greeted by protests of the youth, on which the cardinal comments. The church isn’t as powerful as it once was. The youth in particular has no faith anymore and wants to change the existing power structures. This political undercurrent of the story is present in the background the whole way through, as the leftist movement revolts right outside the holy walls of the church. While inside of them, a sinister plot to secure the church’s power is conjured up. And at the center of it is Margaret, played by the incredible Nell Tiger Free.

I first saw her years ago in Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece Too Old to Die Young (2019), and ever since I have been waiting to see her pop up again. And here she finally does. While there are plenty of bigger stars in the cast surrounding her, from Ralph Ineson and Sônia Braga to Bill Nighy and Charles Dance, they’re all supporting in a movie that truly lets her shine. It’s a difficult performance that could veer into the absurd easily, but Nell Tiger Free keeps her character grounded and real, even when she has to go full Possession (1981) near the end, while simultaneously being unafraid to wholly embody the craziness.

Aaron Morton renders Rome in a beautiful warm light that seems blissfully unaware of the darkness that’s assembling in its midst. Arkasha Stevenson’s script and direction, however, most certainly are. The First Omen is her feature film debut, and it’s clear she knows what she’s doing. Within those beautiful images, she creates some real tension that gets under your skin with an eerie atmosphere. And eventually, the camera as well welcomes the darkness and creates some deeply menacing images. But while The First Omen has its moments, I didn’t feel that it ever truly went there as I’d hoped, and the strong atmosphere is repeatedly broken by jumpscares that are entirely superfluous.

But I think, maybe worst of all, The First Omen suffers from being a prequel. It’s clear from the very beginning how this movie will end, and while that doesn’t have to be a bad thing—there are plenty of great prequels after all—there are certain twists here that end up being rather predictable due to the ending it’s inevitably heading towards. And as we move towards the finale, it does start to feel like events are occurring because they have to, given the nature of this movie, and things get a little convenient. And once you get to the very final scene… I thought it was frankly laughable how the movie decided to sign off. At the end of the day, The First Omen can’t help but be a blockbuster after all.

Ultimately, The First Omen is a movie that gets me excited for the future of both Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free, respectively, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. But that’s just it. There’s plenty of potential and strong moments that prove their talent and have me optimistic about their future endeavors, but not quite enough to get me euphoric for what they pulled together this time around. There’s a lot of good here, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights I had hoped for.

Nairon Santos de Morais
Nairon, 21, from Berlin, is a film student by day, and a writer for FlickLuster by night. Movies and video games are his two big passions in life. As long as they are being kept separate, please no more awful video game adaptations.

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