The First Omen (2024)

The secret to happiness in life, I believe, is to have low expectations. Don’t buy into the hype about anything. Not about what you’re going to do when you get older. Not about marriage or career choices or how good that sandwich you see on the commercials will be. And definitely not about movies. I’ve been burned on all of these things, and, call me cynical, but I tend to pump the brakes now whenever I start getting excited about anything.

Maybe that’s why I never made it to the theater to see THE FIRST OMEN. Yeah, I thought about it for a minute when I saw the trailer, then again when the reviews started coming in. But we’re coming off the lingering stench of that recent EXORCIST movie, which (though it sounds like a bad idea) actually looked promising in the trailers. So I kinda shrugged and went on with my life until tonight when I realized this new bastardization of an old favorite was on Hulu. Oh, alright, screw it. If it’s bad, I’ll just fall asleep on the couch in a cloud of cannabis smoke.

Well, damn.

Glad I didn’t get too high for this. Because going in with low expectations (and a minor buzz), I was caught off guard by how well done this flick actually was. It serves as a prequel to the classic 1976 film THE OMEN and might be almost as good as that.

It opens with a priest in a confession booth, getting some ominous news from another holy man. The scene ends with a divinely evil driven accident that recalls the opening church spire-through-the messenger business from the first movie. Let’s just say that Charles Dance had another impactful supporting role, but he had to leave early due to a splitting headache. Okay, movie, you’ve got my attention.

Then we move to the arrival of a young woman named Margaret in Rome, emerging up from a staircase like something rising almost casually from the depths of a sunny Italian hell. She’s dressed in the habit of a nun-in-training, so we know she’s our girl. She’s played excellently by Nell Tiger Free (the coolest name next to Mia Goth), who’s been in GAME OF THRONES and the Apple TV series SERVANT. The scene is shot beautifully as she wanders into the bustling streets of Rome, wide-eyed and innocent. The cinematography, here and throughout, was deep and vibrant. I was surprised by how expensive everything looked, how artfully it all was done.

She meets the not-sketchy-at-all Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy), who’s been a kind of father figure to her through years in an orphanage. They make their way to the convent-cum-hospital, where he unceremoniously dumps her off with the not-creepy-at-all Mother Superior (Sonia Braga), who gives her one of those uncomfortable stranger hugs. The skittish look is written all over Margaret’s face. You can tell she wants to run, and she probably should, but there’s no running now.

She’s shown around the place, full of seemingly happy little girls and devout cigarette-smoking nuns. She meets the not-crazy-at-all nun Sister Angelica (who’s a dead ringer for the aforementioned Mia Goth) and a probably-not-as-crazy-as-she-seems girl named Carlita, who’s been secluded in the Bad Room.

Yeah, things already seem off. Margaret herself seems off. She used to suffer visions that she’s been convinced are just hallucinations, the product of a fractured mind. As a viewer, we aren’t sure about her at first, and things could obviously go either way as the story unfolds. It’s a religion-based horror movie, of course, so we know it’s not gonna go well.

I can’t say that the plot ended up surprising me much. I called it within the first fifteen minutes. But then, the original OMEN movie wasn’t super twisty either. Things just kind of happen as if they were foretold. But the journey to that somewhat inevitable conclusion is full of several surprising moments.

There are a few scenes in particular that really stand out. There’s one near the beginning where Margaret hangs her frock on the wall, then kneels down in prayer. The entire time she’s on her knees, it looms behind her like a dark figure getting ready to pounce. When the camera pulls back a bit to include the white curtain flowing in the wind beside the dark frock and the empty space of the wall between, it’s damn-near brilliant.

There’s a birthing scene not long after that in which the mothers face twists into a startlingly evil smile just before . . . well, something emerges from between her open legs that should not be emerging. That one’s gonna stay with me a while.

There’s another scene as well, toward the end, where Tiger Free goes all in. Her performance from beginning to end is convincing as hell, ranging from innocence to possible insanity and then to fear and terror. But this particular scene might remind the experienced horror fan of Isabel Adjani in POSSESSION. If you know, you know, and you’ll definitely recognize it when you see it.

THE FIRST OMEN is by no means a perfect film. If you’ve seen the other recent religious horror IMMACULATE, you’ll be convinced that they both started with the same script. But it brings up an intriguing concept about the Catholic Church’s vested interest in folks actually believing in the Devil. I’ve got thoughts bouncing around in my head now that might make their way into my own work. If nothing else, it’s a pretty film to watch, as dark and luscious as temptation, and possessed by great technical aptitude from director Arkasha Stevenson. She’s one to watch, I’m telling you. I’d keep my eye on Nell Tiger Free, too.

Don’t set your sights too high, now or ever. But, if you lower your expectations, this flick will take you on one helluva fun ride.

(Visited 29 times, 1 visits today)