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The First Omen (2024)

Written By Vanessa Maki

Vanessa Maki is a queer Blerd and artist. She has written for a variety of publications including The Pink Advocate, The Gay Gaze, Dread Central, Horror Movie Blog and many more. She is weirder than you realize.

Spoilers ahead!

Religious horror hits differently for folks who were raised religious, particularly Christian. I personally find religious horror to be particularly difficult to watch at times because of how they paint the church. As well as those who consider themselves to be some form of Christian. Franchises like The Conjuring are very guilty of Christian propaganda (it gets even more egregious as the films go on) and fail to critique much of anything. Often feeding into narratives that if you’re not a person of faith, then your fate is doom. The First Omen (2024) is the polar opposite of that, and in fact is the pro-choice film we need at this point in time. It’s a prequel to The Omen (1976) that sheds some insight into the horrors of how Damien came to be.

The First Omen follows a young woman named Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) who goes to Rome in 1971 to work in a church, only to uncover sinister conspiracies surrounding the birth of the Antichrist. Margaret isn’t your typical leading lady in a religious horror film. She has a personality, doubts about her own faith, and is a tremendous main character. Nell Tiger Free’s performance helps convey that perfectly as she slowly comes to understand the dangers she and Carlita (Nicole Sorace) are in. As well as the real story about her own conception and the churches’ abuse of other women.

Throughout the film the imagery becomes increasingly disturbing and there is sexual violence (mentioned and briefly shown), none of which are depicted as an attempt at titillating anyone. The First Omen captures the horrific reality of violation and lack of choice. Despite how the film is set in 1971, its messages surrounding pro-choice, sexual violence, and bodily autonomy as a whole are very relevant. Especially with Margaret not only being a product of sexual violence by way of a jackal, but also a survivor of it (also by way of the same jackal). Instead of the church being a place of safety for her, they were orchestrating all of these events to force her to give birth to the Antichrist.

The film does have periods of lull, but for a directorial debut. Arkasha Stevenson understands the task. At the very heart of The First Omen isn’t strictly the story about the Antichrist. A lesser film wouldn’t allow her to have relationships or connections that last until the end of the film (such as hers with her daughter that was born alongside Damien or Carlita) or would capitalize off that and make Margaret nothing more than a cheap spectacle. A prequel that manages to add more to the lore of a classic is hard to come by. But we’ve been given a gem this time around.

If you’re looking for a film with cheap jump scares and a lot of moments involving the jackal, you won’t find them. It’s a slow burn prequel with homages (to the original and similar films) that’s meant to disturb you by way of visuals and sheer atmosphere. There are some scenes that even I, as someone who isn’t easily shaken, was shocked by. Spoiling those does a disservice to you as the viewer, but if you’re squeamish, then you might get freaked.

At the end of the day, The First Omen is worth checking out, even if you’ve yet to see The Omen (1971). Since it’s a prequel, you can watch it and then check out The Omen because it’s certainly worth watching as well. There is a major tonal shift (symptom of the time the first film came out and also artistic vision) between both movies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t go in expecting the same feeling, other than the dread that’s built into both. And whatever you do, don’t compare the films because The First Omen’s messaging isn’t to be disregarded. Walk into it with an open mind and allow yourself to be immersed in the experience. You might not be disappointed if my praises have swayed you. And there’s much more I could discuss, but then I’d be talking your ear off.

Currently, you can watch the entire The Omen franchise on Disney+ or Hulu. Meanwhile, you’ll have to go to the theater to watch The First Omen. If it’s safe enough for you to do so, watching this at least once in the theater is highly recommended.