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MOVIES: The First Omen - Review

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It wasn’t supposed to be happen this way. The First Omen was supposed to be a relatively under-the-radar horror movie that was the last gasp in a dead franchise that was over the hill long before the release of this new film. Yet – to the sheer credit of director Arkasha Stevenson, there’s life in the old dog yet – with a healthy influence of Possession we get a film not unlike Immaculate where an American nun heads to Rome to begin a life of service in the church only to find that things are not as what they seem – her own faith is questioned by the emergence of a terrifying evil, at the time when people are questioning the church on a scale not seen before.

The film creates an instant impression and a sense of dread and fear on you from day one. This is genuinely scary, unnerving and edge-of-your-seat stuff in all its terrifying forms, favouring the suspense building masterclass rather than a jump scare-shlock, the creepy laughter that follows its lead, Margaret, played by the terrific Nell Tiger Free in a breakout role, into dark places she’d rather not go. The film plays its absurd concept so straight it’s hard not to be utterly convinced by it – the conviction that Free has for her role as Margaret as she becomes more and more unhinged the deeper she gets into the conspiracy leads to a series of shocking incidents one-by-one, I can’t believe this film ended up getting away with a 15 rating in the UK as there’s some seriously gory stuff here. It doesn’t hold back – the chilling imagery of a nun setting herself on fire in front of an orphanage of school-aged children is haunting and sets the tone for what is to come, with Stevenson aping the style of 70s films, especially 70s Italian films – the music scenes during the early club sequences are beautifully shot as you witness, what later becomes obvious, the machinations of the plot kick into gear. It’s feverish, unhinged, insane – bogged down by its need to be part of a franchise but even the silly “not all priests” conspiracy theory that occupies The First Omen is played completely straight, and the references aren’t overbogging the material – as my first entry to the franchise it can be watched completely standalone. Veteran actors like Bill Nighy give this thing a degree of credibility even though what’s coming you’ll spot a mile away, such are the limitations of the source material.

The 70s studio aesthetic is gorgeous and the creepy, dangy, often ugly melancholy of the orphanage’s design is beautifully shot. 70s Rome in particular feels more at home with that of My Brilliant Friend than the present day. The script is so mediocre it’s hard not to be impressed with how much Stevenson elevates The First Omen into something immensely watchable by her sheer craft and passion; it feels like it should be an instant classic of the genre – rare has a horror IP been revitalised this well, maybe not since Prey, at the very least. It’s terrifying.. Scary – make sure you’re not the only one in the theatre watching this like I was. I can normally tolerate horror but The First Omen found a way of getting under my skin.

You can tell a director of Brand New Cherry Flavour worked on this - stylised horror is the best kind.

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