The First Omen

Sonia Braga and Nell Tiger Free star in a scene from the movie "The First Omen." (OSV News photo/Moris Puccio, 20th Century Fox)

NEW YORK (OSV News) – Rosemary’s baby gets some competition in “The First Omen” (20th Century), director and co-writer Arkasha Stevenson’s prequel to a horror franchise that dates all the way back to 1976. While, like its long-ago predecessor, the film makes exploitative use of religion, this is overshadowed by the hideous deaths it showcases.

‘Tis the season, so Hollywood seems to have decided, for creepy Italian convents. Such was the primary setting for “Immaculate” and now we find ourselves roaming the halls of an equally sinister nunnery in search of the backstory of Gregory Peck’s bad boy, Damien.

Like the protagonist of “Immaculate,” moreover, Margaret Daino (Nell Tiger Free), the naive novice on whom the action centers here, is an American. At least, however, the script, on which Stevenson collaborated with Tim Smith and Keith Thomas, gives her a more plausible excuse for being in 1971 Rome than her counterpart had for turning up in the present-day Bel Paese.

Margaret, we learn, has a powerful patron in the person of Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy). He was once the chaplain at the orphanage in which Margaret was raised and has been watching over her ever since. Aptly, the religious community he has arranged for her to join cares for orphaned girls.

While serving her novitiate, Margaret lives off-site in the company of free-spirited fellow postulant Luz Valez (Maria Caballero). Indeed, free-spirited hardly covers it since, at Luz’s insistence, Margaret soon joins her roommate and newfound friend on a sleazy spree, drinking the night away in a bar and cruising for male companionship while dressed like a tart.

Would-be nun by day and party girl by night? “Live a little before it’s too late!” sums up Luz’s philosophy.

Awaking with a hangover and a foggy memory, Margaret resumes her duties. But there’s something not quite right going on among the sisters, and the mystery primarily seems to concern one of their charges, frequently punished outcast Carlita Skianna (Nicole Sorace).

Even as Margaret befriends Carlita and tries to figure out what’s amiss, she’s unexpectedly approached by a furtive stranger, Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson). He eventually explains that he’s run afoul of a band of satanists about whose scheme to foster the birth of the Antichrist he has uncovered too much information.

This coven, he explains, includes high-ranking clerics from the power hungry “bad Church” – the one responsible for the Crusades and the Inquisition. This is not, of course, to be confused with the Gospel-loving “good Church” to which he and Margaret both belong.

Alarmed at the fact that the Woodstock generation is leaving the pews in droves and thus escaping their control, these scheming clergymen have decided to substitute fear for faith by letting Lucifer incarnate have his way with humanity for a while. And the evidence suggests that Carlita is their candidate for mother of the year.

The need for any detailed analysis of this skewed presentation of the undeniable reality that the Church is made up of sinners as well as saints is forestalled by Stevenson’s indulgence in stomach-churning images of mutilation. Thus one character has his skull split open, revealing two cloven chunks of his brain, while another is cut in half, quite literally spilling his guts.

That’s one slice of life wise viewers can do without.

The film contains gruesome bloody violence, mature themes, including muddled theological ideas, full nudity, a same-sex kiss, a couple of mild oaths and at least one rough term. The OSV News classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Scroll to Top