The First Omen (2024)

It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen a return to Richard Donner’s original supernatural series. The original “The Omen,” which was a response to the fame of “The Exorcist” has managed to live on as a horror gem in the ilk of “The Exorcist.” It’s ripe with storytelling potential and shockingly, “The First Omen” takes us back in to this world with near perfect success. If you had told me that “The First Omen” would be a weird, creepy, and memorable horror prequel a year ago, I’d have been as skeptical as ever. I doubted that “The Omen” really had anywhere left, especially after the painfully underrated “The Awakening” in 1991.

But Arkasha Stevenson’s debut is a brutally suspenseful unfolding of the origins of not just Damien, but the plot to conceive of the antichrist.

This new movie brings us back before the Thorn’s where we delve a little deeper in to the calculated efforts to bring about the rise of the antichrist and the twisted machinations that followed. Set in 1971, follows American novitiate Margaret Daino as she’s sent to Rome to work in an orphanage before she takes the veil. As Margaret adapts to not just her new vocation but an entirely new country and a city in the throes of unrest, she finds herself drawn to socially withdrawn orphan Carlita. It’s through her bond with and concern for Carlita that Margaret notices something amiss within the convent. It unlocks a fiercely guarded conspiracy involving the birth of the Antichrist that leaves her questioning her faith; and puts her life in the balance.

Much like the previous movies in the series, “The First Omen” operates on a sense of deep seated urgency that makes the whole battle of good and evil a race to the finish. The forces that are behind this plot are cunning and powerful, and it becomes an uphill battle that seems painfully dire. Stevenson also bases a lot of the dread around gruesome violence that reflects a lot of the violence that would unfold in “The Omen” with a lot of foreshadowing to future events, portraying them less as inexplicable violence, and more as just a part of the whole design. Nell Tiger Free is very good in the role as Margaret Daino, a very open minded and curious nun who is pulled in to the seedier underbelly of her convent.

Director Stevenson composes a very well made and often haunting movie that’s akin to a lot of the imagery Donner evoked with his original films. There are so many moments of jolts as well as beautifully built suspense and mystery. Even though we know what will unfold, we’re still never quite sure how it will unfold, and “The First Omen” allows us to watch what will become a rather immense war of good and evil. The one thing that hinders “The First Omen” is the introduction of a key element that creates a rather gaping plot hole in the entire mythology of Damien Thorn. There’s not a lot explanation of the studio intended to retcon the whole story or whatnot, but once the final act introduces itself, there are so many questions left hanging for the audience.

I had a tough time ignoring it and it distracted from what was an otherwise very good horror film. Had they somewhat justified this hole, I’d have enjoyed “The First Omen” so much more. Nonetheless, Stevenson’s debut is a truly good addition to the chapter of Damien Thorn’s rise to power, paying respect to the original movie series, while also carving out its own pocket mythology that clicks right in to Donner’s first film. I really want to see more of what Arkasha Stevenson has in store for genre fans.