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Why The First Omen Is a Great Horror Prequel


Why The First Omen Is a Great Horror Prequel


Summary

  • The First Omen
    surprises audiences with its critical acclaim and unique approach to horror prequels.
  • Stevenson’s film stands out by appealing to modern audiences while paying homage to the original
    Omen
    .
  • Nell Tiger Free’s standout performance as Margaret elevates the film, making it a must-watch for horror fans.



In recent days, a new horror film arrived in theaters that has surprised everyone who has seen it. The First Omen, by director Arkasha Stevenson, was released by 20th Century Studios, the production studio that resulted from Disney’s infamous takeover of Fox. The studio isn’t often associated with horror films, and in recent times, they’ve actually stood far from big horror releases that don’t go straight to offshoot streaming platforms like Hulu. Well, The First Omen is teaching them a thing or two.


The film has been critically acclaimed. After its initial release in theaters, audiences are raving about it and how it manages to stand on its own while paying homage to the franchise it’s part of. Viewers sat down for a regular horror film that perhaps wasn’t supposed to be so good, but Stevenson has designed a movie that could be cemented on the “best horror” lists of 2024. Yes, it’s too soon to tell, but the legacy of the film doesn’t only have to do with how good it is but with its format.

When was the last time you heard of a prequel that worked? Actually, make that a horror prequel, and you will probably go around in a loop where Annabelle: Creation, Pearl, and Prey get all the attention. It just doesn’t often work, and most horror prequels fall between the crevices of generic horror, franchise recycling, and even straight-to-video schedules. The First Omen is solid proof that the concept works. And there’s a secret that Arkasha Stevenson seems to hold. Let’s examine why The First Omen stands out in the rocky territory of horror prequels.


Spoiler Warning: Spoilers Ahead for The First Omen.


The First Omen Is Fantastic Religious Horror

The FIrst Omen poster

The First Omen

3/5

Release Date
April 5, 2024

Director
Arkasha Stevenson

Read Our Review

The First Omen tells the story of Margaret, an American novitiate about to take her vows. For this, she gets assigned to work in an orphanage in Rome in the early 1970s, as the city is in complete turmoil over political issues. Shy but hopeful, Margaret meets a fellow novice who will also take her vows and show her a bit of the nightlife before they surrender to the laws of the Catholic Church. At the same time, Margaret feels something is off in the orphanage. An orphan called Carlita is socially awkward to the extreme, and she’s constantly being punished. Also, Margaret realizes the orphanage works as a safe haven for single mothers. When she witnesses a birth, she’s sure there’s something wrong with the Vizzardeli Orphanage.


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After witnessing a horrific death by suicide, Margaret decides to listen to Father Brennan, an excommunicated priest who reveals the orphanage may be a cover for something more sinister: the church has lost power, and to install fear in the community, they must show that they can fight evil. To do this with the authenticity required, they’ve decided to breed the Antichrist, and he suspects Carlita may be the vessel to carry out the pregnancy. Margaret goes on a quest to find the truth, and she finds out in the orphanage archives that the truth about this radical side of the church is much closer than she thought.

Critics and Audiences Are Raving About The First Omen, but Why?


The film has held a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a few days, and there are no signs of that stopping. It’s already being hailed as one of the horror films of the year, and on Film Twitter, everyone has something to say about it. Fortunately, most of the commentaries about it are positive. In addition, its release coincides with that of another religious horror film that created some buzz in recent days as well, and which also tells a story revolving around a nun. Immaculate, starring Sydney Sweeney, is also part of the discourse and another reason why it feels great to be a horror fan these days.

The reason for such a reaction seems to be the fact that the film appeals to modern audiences, as well as viewers who instantly connect to the Richard Donner classic of 1976, The Omen. While the events are cohesive to that storyline, which was expanded into a whole new franchise, it doesn’t feel like a vulgar display of fanservice to represent a risky cash grab. Not at all. Instead, viewers are recognizing the shift in Stevenson’s style of filmmaking, her homage agenda (which doesn’t stick with paying tribute to The Omen), and highlighting what will surely be one of the best horror performances of the year. If the audience connects with a performance, half the job is done.


What Makes The First Omen a Good Prequel?

However, let’s dive into the prequel aspect of The First Omen. Many thought it would be a direct link to Donner’s film, with nostalgia-driven tactics to make the audience feel they were witnessing the early concept of the classic film. Remember when the alien ship dropped in Prometheus, and fans saw a shot identical to what they saw in 1979’s Alien? As underrated and over-hated as that film is, it felt like a direct wink to the concept of a prequel, where breaking the rules isn’t exactly permitted.

Yes, The First Omen has that scene. The one that refers to the original in a gruesome sequence that feels eerily familiar. Fortunately, Stevenson keeps this on a low profile and simply appears to be checking a minimal item on a list. The power of her film is elsewhere, not in its ability to be a prequel.


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The film stands on its own as a riveting character study focused on the weakness of a woman who’s had the first chance to be free from the restraints of her upbringing. Margaret is a hero who turns into something else temporarily and then comes back around in a very interesting conclusion that goes full circle in eliminating any possible plot holes and represents the birth of a franchise.

The First Omen is a good prequel because it doesn’t stick to being one. It substantially feeds into the dramatic backdrop of why the church is doing all this and manages to base it on a well-designed character in the hands of Nell Tiger Free, a performer who stands close to her peers in the horror verse of great female performances. Yes, it’s insanely good, and she’s the main reason the film works.


The Power of a Good Performance in The First Omen

Nell Tiger Free is an English actor mostly known for her roles in TV shows like Game of Thrones and Servant. In The First Omen, she’s featured in her first high-profile starring gig. The result is an outstanding horror performance that will hopefully be remembered for some time.

Free portrays the typical hysterical and naive woman, following the formula of her character (Margaret wants to be a nun, and she just wants to comply). But Free makes the progression of her character believable and compelling. More than once, she goes off the beaten path, and her reaction is to pray with fervor, aggressiveness, and faith. She owns the role, and today, it’s impossible to imagine someone else playing Margaret.


One of the most critical scenes in the film compiles every bit of our argument. Margaret is now aware that she will give birth to the abominable creature. After a car crash, she emerges from the wreck badly hurt. But her injuries don’t exactly cause her to twitch. Her body contorts, and slowly, we witness an invasion of some sort. The “possession” is incontrollable, and Free makes viewers recall Isabelle Adjani’s famous subway scene in Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession. So, a huge homage, but not directly referring to The Omen. Because, of course, that would be succumbing to Hollywood’s rules, and in horror, there’s nothing better than breaking them. The First Omen is playing in theaters now.


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