‘The First Omen’ should be the last

Nell Tiger Free in The First Omen

“If Satan wasn’t around, churches would go out of business.” – Marilyn Manson

Sacrilege as it might be to say, but try as I might, I have never really liked the Omen films. Even the original, the supposed “good” one, was very badly written, failing to provide a satisfying resolution for the protagonist and audience, resulting in zero underlying message. It strikes one as a clear Exorcist wannabe, made all the more evident when franchise entries pop up right after those from the antecedent. And sure enough, as the seminal series has made its return with Believer, we now have The First Omen.

That title implies something that could have promise, like detailing the account of an Antichrist from centuries ago and how humanity stopped it. Instead, we get an immediate prequel so tiring, pointless, dull, and laboriously (no pun intended) drawn out, ending on a note that’s framed as some shocking reveal when it was obvious from the onscreen text showing the year at the film’s start.

To wit, it’s 1971 and American nun Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) has been sent to Rome to work at an orphanage (as far as she knows, anyway). Before long she takes a keen interest in Carlita (Nicole Sorace), a highly disturbed young girl. And from there things start to go bump in the night, Margaret suspects her superiors have secrets, you know the rest.

It might also be worth noting here that we’ve yet again found ourselves at a point in time when two uncannily similar movies are released against one another. But I have not so much as seen a trailer for Immaculate, so rest assured that this review is not negative because it’s comparing the two. The picture is bad all on its own.

As said in the introductory paragraph, I found the original movie’s writing quite poor, but I still recognized that The First Omen has utterly disregarded, contradicted, and undermined the backstory of that earlier film. A massive retcon that so drastically shifts responsibility (hint: this review’s opening quote was not chosen randomly) is just nonsensical and can’t possibly explain the events (think those of a more supernatural nature) that will unfold. Add to that a tangent seemingly meant to set up a potential side story, except I seem to recall there already being sequels. Wouldn’t these characters have shown up there?

It can be incredibly obvious in so many scenes where they are headed, but the film insists on dragging them out. There’s no suspense in that, just tedium. Add to that several banal bits referencing the 1976 film (though oddly only one of those Final Destination-esque sequences) that serve no other purpose than to be banal references. 

If there’s anything that can be said in this film’s defense, it doesn’t completely fail on the acting front. Free is good in her part, evoking the leads in gialli of old. Bill Nighy, Sonia Braga, and Charles Dance are the veterans brought in this time to add some class (which, admittedly, they somewhat do) and collect paychecks. 

More than ever, it’s apparent that the people overseeing the Omen films have no clue how to manage them. Just because Exorcist keeps coming back doesn’t mean its imitators have to. Let The First Omen be the last.

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