The First Omen

It has been an eventful life for Margaret Daino, though one in which she has been protected, an orphan who was raised in the church, Cardinal Lawrence keeping an eye on her as she was moved around the world, now reunited with him in Rome where she is to take the veil at the Vizzardeli Orphanage run by Sister Silvia, rooming in the city with Luz who is determined to make the most of the last days before dedicating her life to God.

Quickly becoming interested in one of the other girls, Carlita Scianna, suffering from intense nightmares which she sketches and considered to be both troubled and troublesome by the sisters, much the same as Margaret herself was as a child, she is warned away by the nuns but is approached by an excommunicated priest, Father Brennan, who also has an interest in and concerns about Carlita’s lineage and future.

It is almost fifty years since The Omen was released and around twenty years since its remake, that largely forgotten chapter seemingly the final revision in the religious horror sequence originally produced in the wake of the huge success of The Exorcist, but in the same way as that famous demonic possession produced a late-arriving sequel so the genesis of the Antichrist is now explored in a similarly unexpected prequel, The First Omen.

Directed by Arkasha Stevenson with location filming in Italy, The First Omen expresses the extremes of religion, rituals of abasement to unseen powers conducted by candlelight under a haze of smouldering incense even before the descent into the darker chambers beneath the orphanage, preying on those who have nowhere to go, orphans such as Margaret and Carlita (Nell Tiger Free and Nicole Sorace) or the weak of mind, Sister Anjelica (Ishtar Currie-Wilson) left to her own devices though she is obviously disturbed.

The Catholic Church an organ of control and repression, particularly of women, to whom pregnancy is the most hallowed sacrament, The First Omen is most engaging and disturbing in Margaret’s feverish visions of monstrous labours and surgical interventions, less so when shoehorning in references to the original film with a photograph of Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn or the judiciously late deployment of Jerry Goldsmith’s Ave Satani, and as a standalone body horror with no obligation to conform to an established cultural touchstone the film might have flourished, for there is much to appreciate.

Set in Rome in 1971, a time of protests and turmoil as workers seek better conditions and students push against the stifling traditions of the state, as the rock upon which it is built the Catholic Church must stand fast against the assaults of modernity, the threat to its power by the drift of the younger generation from blind devotion to secular life causing a secret cabal to form within the organisation, an interesting twist which might have added new shade to the existing films if the suggestion were in any way supported by what is shown in them.

The orthodoxy of the church represented by Kiss of the Spider Woman‘s Sônia Braga and The Limehouse Golem‘s Bill Nighy as Sister Silvia and the jovial and affable Cardinal Lawrence, Charles Dance seems to have cashed his cheque and fled, Father Harris appearing only in an opening scene to deliver needless exposition then die with predictable rapidity; the shocking and inventive executions The Omen films were once known grown increasingly ridiculous with each sequel, nanny’s “it’s all for you” moment is no longer sufficient and it must now be recreated by a nun. On fire.

With The Creator’s Ralph Ineson taking the role of Father Brennan, played by Patrick Troughton in the original film, it must be presumed that his later regeneration muddied his memories as his most famous line, “the mother was a jackal,” seems to misremember the alternative facts now presented, and where before the dread of either madness or the apocalypse loomed above instead jump scares, car crashes and lurking monsters fill time until a rushed conclusion and its post-script which heralds a new bloodline that can only indicate a gestating sequel: Mrs Baylock would likely not approve.

The First Omen is currently on general release



Show Buttons
Hide Buttons