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Film: The First Omen  
Cast: Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Sonia Braga, Tawfeek Barhom, Maria Caballero, Charles Dance, Bill Nighy, Nicole Sorace
Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Rating: 2/5
Runtime: 120 min

A young American woman Margaret Daino ( Nell Tiger Free) is sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church. Eager to battle the demons she has experienced all through her childhood, she is prepared to sacrifice her individual needs for that of the church… Little does she know of the sinister campaign that makes her a pawn of the very evil she hopes to overcome.

This prequel origin story connects to the 1976 ‘The Omen’ in multiple ways. But there’s nothing here to suggest that this film might rake in the same amount of affection that the original one did and continues to do. The story here is familiar. Margaret, prompted by Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy), agrees to join the nuns at the Vizzardeli Orphanage. But she is not prepared for the darkness she encounters there in the form of fellow inmates and gatekeepers of the faith itself. Her faith is eroded and the uncovering of a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate, nullifies her belief in the church itself.

Of late, in Hollywood horror movies, it’s the nuns who are being possessed by evil. This one is no different but there is a slight effort here to delay the inevitable with some convoluted religious jargon. There are several nods to predecessors here but none of them have the weight to carry the belief in the ‘Antichrist’ forward. This film, though intended as yet another franchise opener, fails to present an impactful spiel of religio-horror mumbo-jumbo. Stray but stunning visual imagery and symbolism relating to past cinematic efforts of the genre look good but they don’t leave an impact. The new additions to the lore leave room for further building upon but in the here and now, there’s hardly anything to feast on.

The opening scene, a homage to the past, sets the stakes for what is to come. A priest struck on the head, bleeding yet standing, plays on your senses, then comes the incident with the nun, Anjelica, setting herself on fire -and the picture takes on new meaning. The arrival of Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), an excommunicated priest, rings the alarm bells but are we prepared to believe yet?

The screenplay indulges in some sensuality with Margaret allowing herself to be briefly corrupted by her roommate Luz’s (Maria Caballero) efforts to experience life before sacrificing her desires to God. Margaret’s involvement with Paolo (Andrea Arcangeli) in a nightclub opens the door for the big reveal that cements this film’s connection to ‘The Omen.’ But its all done in a staccato fashion.  

The First Omen, the sixth installment in the franchise, is a direct prequel to Richard Donner and David Seltzer’s 1976 film. The attempt to connect strongly to the past is obvious but the story threads are a bit shop-worn and the visuals, repetetive. We get to see several scenes of Margaret’s distressed close-ups as also her lying on her bed with her hair spread out in a medusa-like arrangement. Even the symbolism and iconography fail to carry enough weight. Set during post-Vatican II, against the backdrop of Italy’s years of discontent among the rebellious youth and the jobless, Margaret Daino’s encounters with a cult trying to birth the Antichrist, segues into the country’s obligatory cause of tension. But in essence, the tension is never experienced while watching the movie.

Nightmare imagery, violent sights and artful compositions are integral to the extreme gore on display here. Physical torment tied to birthing compounded by screaming, wailing and other human anguish sounds are also a part of that bag of tricks that play on in shallow disaffecting fashion here.

The narrative punctuated by blank moments is rather sluggish in its entreaty. There’s hardly any intrigue to be had and even the viciousness of the second half fails to generate even a modicum of scares. The lead actress shows off her potential but the drama here is so woebegone that all her hard work amounts to little recompense. The eventual resolution is befitting the intent for further extension to the franchise but it does little to encourage us to view this one with any affection.



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