The First Omen review | A thoroughly terrifying, unnerving prequel

the first omen review
Share this Article:

Nell Tiger Free is a terrified nun who discovers a dark secret at the heart of the Catholic church. Here’s our The First Omen review. 

After what felt like an eternity of no decent or exciting horror films, we’re incredibly lucky to have three land in our laps within a few weeks. We’ve already been impressed by Sydney Sweeney’s powerhouse performance in Immaculate and terrified silly by David Dastmalchian’s talk show horror with a satanic spin in Late Night With The Devil, but I doubt any of us expecting The First Omen, a prequel to Richard Donner’s 1976 film The Omen, to join those two as early favourites for the best horror films of 2024. 

We’ve been burned many times with these prequels, reboots and sequels which heavily borrow from some of our favourite classic horror films. The Exorcist: Believer is still all too fresh in our minds… Heading into The First Omen, we’re all questioning if this is at all necessary – and more importantly, how does it compare to the 1976 classic? 

I don’t know about necessary, but Arkasha Stevenson’s The First Omen is a terrifying, visceral entry in The Omen franchise. It proudly stands on its own cinematic legs, and Stevenson offers us a frighteningly real examination of female bodily autonomy. 

the first omen nell tiger free
Credit: 20th Century Studios

Like Immaculate, The First Omen begins with a young woman arriving in Italy with the mindset of taking the veil and committing their life to God. Margaret (Nell Tiger Free, terrific) is met with Father Lawrence (an underused Bill Nighy) in Rome. 

Margaret is shacking up with another novice, Luz, who is much more outgoing and frequents local bars before she signs her life (and body) away to God. Both Margaret and Luz are to work in the local orphanage, where Margaret strikes up a bond with Carlita, a mysterious young girl who seems different from everyone else. Oh boy, is she different…

Read more: Interview | Director Michael Mohan on making Immaculate and working with Sydney Sweeney

It’s already been widely reported that Stevenson had to fight tooth and nail to get the MPAA to reduce the film’s rating to an R (the film is released as a 15 in the UK) due to a particularly unsettling scene that’s violent, horrifying and incredibly necessary for the story she’s telling here. 

Stevenson highlights how the female body rarely belongs to ourselves, or at least that was the case in the film’s 1970s setting. As Luz is taking her vows, she’s dressed in virginal white – quite literally marrying herself off to the church. As she’s fitted for her habit, the older nuns yank the headpiece on her, making sure to leave nothing but the centre of her face uncovered. She’s to give her body to the church, which is free to do with it as it pleases. It’s a bold statement to make with your first feature, but that kind of fearlessness is strongly present in The First Omen. 

Nell Tiger Free is simply magnificent here. There’s a scene towards the end of the film that’s clearly inspired by 1981’s Possession, but she’s impressive throughout the film. She convincingly conveys Margaret’s growing uneasiness, but also her unwavering commitment to Carlita, to whom she relates. 

While other characters aren’t quite as well fleshed out, Stevenson smartly weaves in real-world issues of the time period, notably the violent protests of the time. Her direction is near-flawless here; the film is slightly bogged down by an overstretched ending and unnecessary, hammered in connection to The Omen, but all the same, The First Omen should not be ignored. 

And the scares, you may ask? The First Omen doesn’t have as many jumpscares as Immaculate, but the terror here is a different kind. It’s more primal and terrifying in an unusual way, which is something we rarely see in horror films. Throughout the film’s two-hour runtime, there was a knot in my stomach; I felt like the dread was gnawing on my insides, chewing my organs as Stevenson’s film dug itself ever more deeply under my skin. 

The First Omen may not end up being the year’s scariest horror, but I’d be surprised if we saw anything as bold and controlled as Stevenson’s stunningly, rigorously petrifying debut feature. 

The First Omen is in cinemas 5th April. 

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this