The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

“The First Omen” review: How I wish this wasn’t an “Omen” movie

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Preciosa Ríos

I’d like to pay tribute to the trailer editors out there. A good trailer serves as a mood piece that occupies a non-linear narrative; it has immense value as an exercise in form. While definitely not art, the medium teases out the core emotional tenets of the film and can occasionally elicit a more potent emotional response than the film itself.

This is all to say the trailer for “The First Omen” is excellent. The images from the film take on new life in this format, evoking a different sort of creepiness within the same thematic confines. As the footage plays in reverse, it symbolizes the world moving backward against our lead characters, dragging them into the regressive roles of the sisterhood. 

All that to say, I probably prefer the trailer for “The First Omen” over the film itself. Director Arkasha Stevenson’s first feature is sturdy and inventive enough to provide a visually engaging thrill ride that, unfortunately, feels a little wonky regarding its wider storytelling construction. 

“The First Omen,” a prequel to Richard Donner’s 1976 film “The Omen,” follows Margaret (Nell Tiger Free), an American novitiate who travels to Rome in 1971 to be ordained as a nun. Stationed at a convent, Margaret soon finds that the city is not as safe as she thought. One of the orphans (Nicole Sorace) is being tormented by visions of the devil. Riots break out in the streets as class tensions rise and an excommunicated priest (Ralph Ineson) warns her of the true motives of the Church. As her world turns upside down, Margaret must race against the clock to stop a coming evil that threatens the fate of the world. 

In cutting her teeth on horror series like “Brand New Cherry Flavor” and “Channel Zero”, Stevenson developed a visual style distinguishable from most modern horror. There’s an acute sense of color that feels inspired by Dario Argento’s “Suspiria,” the vibrant reds and deep blues imbuing the film with a liveliness unlike most other horror outings from major studios. 

It’s no “Euphoria” either; the shots don’t just exist to look pretty in and of themselves. The most effective sequences in the film play out in montage with little-to-no dialogue, using sharp editing and thoughtfully composed images of body horror to create an atmosphere that makes you afraid of what can be done to the human form. 

Butting up against the gorgeous visual storytelling is a clunky first act that nearly drowns in exposition and set-up. It all eventually pays off but it’s initially paced with an unconfident sluggishness. Stevenson, with her cinematographer Aaron Morton, seems more interested in using the elaborate semiotics of the Catholic Church to tell the story rather than the script. 

It’s not so much that the script and the screen tell different stories; it’s that the visual storytelling captures a version of that story with much more depth and intrigue. Stevenson’s script,co-written with Tim Smith and Keith Thomas, is holding back her ambition as a filmmaker by bogging everything down in unimportant minutiae. This makes the clash between what’s being shown and what’s being told much harder to ignore. 

While the film grows more confident as it progresses through its second and third acts, building to a brilliantly suspenseful climax that almost won me over, it promptly disintegrates at the finish line. A jarring final few minutes make the true ambitions of the project clear: this film exists mainly to jumpstart the latent “Omen” franchise. 

While there may be hints at themes of patriarchy and the way those systems use women’s bodies and minds like tools, the film is ultimately subservient to corporate interests in intellectual property management. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching the film to catch the wild swings it takes, but if it’s all just an advertisement for more “Omen,” I’d rather just watch the trailer again. 

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