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Go behind the scenes with director Arkasha Stevenson and the cast of The First Omen
Featurette: 20th Century Studios

The First Omen
Directed by Arkasha Stevenson
Rated R
Born 5 April 2024

The First Omen is a story best left untold.

June 6, 6:00 AM

The First Omen movie poster

As a moviegoing experience, there’s a lot to admire in The First Omen, so it’s not a total loss. But the problem is a big one: the story. There are too many (priests’) hands in the pot and not enough of the supernatural, not enough mystery.

That’s all in an effort to tell the tale that sets the stage for Richard Donner’s 1976 The Omen. The First Omen ends shortly before The Omen begins, with a black-and-white portrait of Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) being passed around as the target — or victim — or mark — whatever term seems most agreeable.

It's a dicey storyline. There are the Catholic faithful who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. But there are also those who turn a blind eye on rape and abuse; they’re the ones leading a charge into secularism. The times are changing. People have lost trust in the Catholic Church and attendance is dropping.

What better way to bring people back into the fold than to have their faith rattled by a new evil (one of, yes, Biblical proportions)? Belief is power. Bring in the anti-Christ so people have something to fear and a reason to believe in the Church again. (But good luck with controlling the Beast.)

The Bad Room

The First Omen is loaded with disturbing imagery. There’s the creepy opening involving a mysterious pregnancy and a priest with a grim smile before a grisly accident shaves a portion off the back of his skull. Other visuals involving pregnant women giving birth to demon-like creatures. Spiders. Lots of spiders.

But disturbing imagery isn’t the same as scary. The First Omen offers a couple good jolts (some also involve disturbing imagery, such as a guy getting sliced in half in a freak car accident). What The First Omen needs are some good scares, a sense of evil that extends beyond the veil and the cloth. There needs to be a greater sense of the uncontrollable, of factors that leave behind the terrestrial and enter the spiritual.

As the original Omen played out, there were possessed dogs, a scary nun and, of course, the ultimate bad boy, Damien. They were all unpredictable. Uncontrollable.

The First Omen has a lot of nuns and priests behaving badly, but their unhinged actions are devoid of any rational basis in religion. That makes them more caricatures from torture porn than a legitimate (God-fearing) terror. Plus, there’s a humdinger of an ending that unfortunately leaves more heads being scratched than minds being blown.

Take the Veil

Nonetheless, The First Omen has some great moments as it strives to create a horrific atmosphere.

Contributing to those efforts are a great score by Mark Korven (The Lighthouse) and stunning visuals from cinematographer Aaron Morton (The Lord of the Rings; The Rings of Power). It’s helmed by Arkasha Stevenson, who’s making her feature directorial debut with this twisted tale of tortured pregnancies. Without a doubt, despite the narrative shortcomings, Stevenson makes quite an impression and she’s a talent to note and look forward to seeing more from.

At times Stevenson creates some great old-school chiller vibes, demonstrating a Hitchcockian flair. Those moments are what make The First Omen a rather fascinating disappointment.

There are many cool movie moments. A nightclub scene cuts to black, then Margaret (Nell Tiger Free, Game of Thrones), a young woman on the verge of taking the veil, is seen in bed, her long, dark hair wildly spread across purple bed sheets. Her mascara’s running; she looks like Medusa

Then there’s a flashback involving that same nightclub; a stretched-out hand, music playing; light bouncing in the darkness. It’s effective. It’s evocative. Along with screen-filling closeups of an eyeball taking in the surroundings.

There are sequences of cleverness, those scenes that hark back to classic thrillers, such as a scene in which Margaret and Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson, The Creator) rummage through a stack of file folders and find the spot where a loose black-and-white photo of an infant was originally glued. Father Brennan? He was played by Patrick Troughton in the 1976 Omen. After warning Robert Thorn, he meets a most grisly end in the thick of an unholy windstorm and at the wrong end of a loose lightning rod. It’s that kind of unnatural catastrophe The First Omen lacks.

It’s basically too grounded.

Losing My Religion

It’s the cast — along with the score and cinematography — that keep the movie engaging despite it’s slow teeter into absurdity that builds on a revelation regarding Damien being born of a jackal from the unpopular Damien: Omen II. That sounds like pure evil and something requiring the supernatural, but The First Omen butchers the menacing high concept.

Free and Ineson are terrific, as is Maria Caballero (Olvido) as Luz, a beautiful young woman preparing to enter the nunnery with Margaret. Luz dresses provocatively and hits the nightclubs with panache simply so she can know what it’s like to be beautiful before having to give it all up for a dramatically restricted lifestyle.

It’s great to have seasoned pros like Sonia Braga, Bill Nighy and Charles Dance bring their clout to the production and test their acting chops with some sketchy material. But ultimately, it’s the story that undermines the whole experience.

This effort is unrelated to the recent reboots of Halloween and The Exorcist. David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have nothing to do with this one. Instead, the story and screenplay were assembled by a team of four relatively unknown writers (including Stevenson) and that’s a tall order for any hopes of resurrecting yet another 1970s horror franchise.

• Originally published at

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