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The First Omen

Updated: Apr 26

"How do you control people who no longer believe? You create something to fear."

Somewhere within Arkasha Stevenson's new film THE FIRST OMEN, there's a scary good film waiting to be birthed.

With plenty of gory body horror and hideous things hiding in the darkness right over there where you can't quite see them, it's not without scares.

In her first big screen film, Stevenson (FX's "Legion") captures the early 70's film look and feel that deftly calls back the 1976 original, as well as films of that era.

She's also assembled a very strong cast.

Nell Tiger Free (Servant) is Margaret, a young American woman arriving in Rome to become a nun. She's under the watchful eye of Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy) and the intimidating Sister Silva (Sonia Braga).

Margaret spends her days at a girls orphanage, using her own history as an orphan to help the children. She's barely had time to check in when she notices strange things and odd behavior.

Since the orphanage also takes in pregnant women about to give birth, there's quite a focus on a stark, sterile room with WAY too many windows to watch a live birth. Margaret witnesses a birth fairly early in the film that nearly earned the film an NC-17 rating. It's creepy as hell and one of the most realistic body terror scenes I've seen since John Carpenter inflicted all KINDS of body horrors in "The Thing" and Ridley Scott had the Alien pop out of John Hurt.

Margaret faints. Surely she was just imagining that, right?

At night, Margaret lives with another young woman about to take her vows, Luz (Maria Caballero). While Margaret seems scared of her own shadow and very sheltered, Luz is devoted to making the most of her final days of a free life. It's the first of a few interesting story turns that pay off.

Ralph Ineson (The Creator) is very good as Father Brennan, an outsider priest who is convinced that the birth of the antichrist is impending. Ineson is terrific as a man terrified of what he believes and anxious to have someone else believe him. He conjures up serious David Warner as photographer Keith Jennings vibes. That's high praise for any Omen fan.

Omen fans remember well what happened to Father Brennan, played by Patrick Troughton in the original film after he met with Ambassador Thorn in the park. That knowledge also gives extra suspense to the film's very first scene in which Brennan meets with Father Harris (the ALWAYS great Charles Dance from "Alien 3" and "Game of Thrones" in a far too brief appearance.) I'd be looking up too if I was Father Brennan.

There are enjoyable connections to the original film that make you think about Gregory Peck and Warner seeking the truth about Damien in all those dark corners of Rome. It's the dark corners here that Stevenson and her creative team get right.

I loved when Anton Alexander came into the story as Father Spiletto. Any Omen fan remembers that name all too well from Peck & Warner's relentless quest.

There were also moments here that reminded me of Dario Argento's 1977 "Suspiria" and Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" and one major plot twist that I suspected about a half hour before it happened, but it's still impactful.

Mark Korven's horror score is effective and I loved that it's fairly restrained except for key moments. "Vow Ceremony" feels as authentic to "I'm taking my vows in Rome in an ancient cathedral" as possible, before it slowly slips into very ominous territory.

Jerry Goldsmith's famous theme "Ave Santini" is saved for the conclusion, or at least what should have been the conclusion before a final five minutes that seems like some tacked on, half-hearted effort to set up a sequel to the prequel.

I think when we all saw Gareth Edwards' brilliant "Star Wars" prequel, "Rogue One" we were stunned by how well its final moments became the first moments of George' Lucas's original film.

There's a superb opportunity here to do the same thing, with the final scene melding into those opening moments at 6am on June 6th in Rome when Gregory Peck's ambassador Thorn took possession of a baby not his own.

Alas, its here where Stevenson and her two writing partners stumble hardest.

Cut the last five minutes and add a few more scares and you'd have a modern classic worthy of the 50 year legacy of this series. Alas, we end up here with some great performances and a few solid gross out moments that only scare up a C+.

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