April 12, 2024

The prequel to ‘The Omen’ is beyond redemption

An amusingly cheap attempt to ride on the success of The exorcist1976 The Omen concerns a United States ambassador (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick) who, after the untimely death of their child, adopt a little boy named Damien – a boy they eventually learn is none other than the Antichrist. Since Damien himself is a baby at the start of Richard Donner’s franchise initiator, and his origins are clearly laid out in the story’s conclusion, there’s seemingly little left to say about his earlier days. Nevertheless, the only thing more insidious than Beelzebub himself is pop culture’s endless mining of easily marketable intellectual property, and thus: The first omen is here to reveal the true origins of the son of Satan – other than, you know, him being the son of Satan, which is the only thing worth knowing about him in the first place.

Like last year’s The Nun II, The first omen (in theaters April 5) is a period piece about an American woman of the cloth who moves to an Italian monastery beset by demonic forces. In this case that figure is Margaret (Servant‘s Nell Tiger Free), a former orphan whose pious path to the nunnery overseen by Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy) leads her to Rome. It’s 1971 and the city is plagued by strikes by both workers and students who no longer see value in traditional ways of life – including the Catholic Church. Lawrence hopes that Margaret, in her own small way, can help reverse that trend and draw people back to the light of God. This is a mission for which she is well equipped, although from the moment she arrives in her new hometown she is drawn to Carlita Scianna (Nicole Sorace), a teenage girl who is perpetually locked in her room and greets Margaret by hiding under a bed. to crawl. , grabbed her face and gave her cheek a big, wet lick.

Carlita is a creepy weirdo, and The first omen means that we assume that she is the offspring or bride of Lucifer; a prologue shows Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson) receiving a photo of a baby in the care of the Church with the name “Scianna” written on the back, and then watching as the man who gifted him this photo, Father Harris (Charles Dance ), each other meets a gruesome fate. Strange machinations take place in and around Margaret’s house, but at least early on the young woman is too naive to suspect much, even as she is disturbed by Carlita’s drawings of nuns floating in the air and carrying creatures in their wombs. Mostly, she is consumed with fitting into this enclave, a process complicated by her roommate Luz (Maria Caballero) – a free spirit who, before “taking the veil,” wants to have wild sexual fun in the city since, as she tells Margaret, you must know who you are before you can give yourself to God.

Director Arkasha Stevenson doesn’t skimp on reliable genre elements, from shadowed streets, sculpted faces, lantern-lit hallways and garish jump scares to a score drowning in prayer-like whispers, shrill strings and soaring choral vocals. It’s every gimmick in the unholy cinema playbook, and yet Stevenson knows how to frame a composition in striking ways. Plus, it can conjure up some creepy images, like Margaret seeing an unwed mother writhing and screaming during childbirth in the convent, during which she has a vision of a monstrous hand emerging where a baby’s head should be . In these and other sporadic cases, the filmmaker shows the gift of embellishing her familiar material with catchy punctuation.

Unfortunately, Stevenson, Tim Smith and Keith Thomas’ screenplay struggles to create drama from a prequel premise that is both unnecessary and derivative. It reaches a somber low point during a courtyard party in which a deranged nun, after cooing mysterious evil things into Carlita’s ear, goes to a balcony and proclaims, “It’s all for you” before committing performative suicide—a ho- hum duplication of the original The Omen‘s signature scene. A slightly more successful ‘tribute’ (to be kind) comes later when, after a car accident, Margaret convulses and grunts in public for several minutes à la Isabelle Adjani in Possess, complete with bodily fluids squirting from various orifices. It’s far from the same as its predecessor, but then again, almost nothing is. And for a mainstream studio film from 2024, this tribute imbues the action with a degree of genuine wildness.

A still from the film The First Omen

A scene from The First Omen

20th century studios

The first omen is too clumsy to mask its central twist, which most moviegoers will predict about fifteen minutes into the show, so the main attractions are Stevenson’s occasionally inspired visuals and Tiger Free’s headliner. Once again playing a twentysomething in the crosshairs of religious fanatics (following Servant), the actress demonstrates a flair for masking demented volatility behind a cheerfully sane facade, and her director does right by her, often placing her on bedspreads with her hair flowing outward like tendrils to suggest her explosive madness. A role designed as a cheap device, only to be undone by late incidents that make little sense, is beyond redemption. Still, it reaffirms that Tiger Free could be a unique future scream queen, should she be given better opportunities to show her sinister stuff.

Despite working hard to keep the tension high, The first omen telegraphs its bombshells from the start and dutifully shuffles toward a conclusion that ties this saga to Donner’s The Omen. That goal is as exciting as it is inevitable, even as Stevenson, Smith and Thomas generate unintentional humor from a great one [spoiler warning] shocker: The birth of the Antichrist is actually being pursued by the Catholic Church, which believes his profane presence in the world will scare 70s secularists back to the Old Testament. This is brash nonsense, even for a pulpy satanic thriller like this, and unfortunately it never soars in a suitably frenzied manner; the best the director delivers is a fire and brimstone ending in which the master of Hell gets incongruously hot under the collar, as well as some groan-inducing exposition about tying up loose ends. The dark lord may have risen, but… The first omen is light on necessary or compelling revelation.

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