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The Crack Magazine

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The First Omen

Director: Arkasha Stevenson

Stars: Nell Tiger Free, Ralph Ineson, Billy Nighy, Maria Cabarello, Sônia Braga

This prequel to the 1976 horror classic ‘The Omen’ feels substantially more than mere franchise-milking thanks to some strong performances and muscular direction from first-time feature helmer Arkasha Stevenson.

‘Game of Throne’s’ Nell Tiger Free is Margaret, a callow American novice nun just arrived in 1971 Rome to work in an orphanage. She is met at the airport by the kindly, soft-spoken Cardinal Lawrence (Nighy). Lawrence expresses his concerns to Margaret that secularism is on the increase and that protesting the youth of Italy are turning their back on the idea of religion as the solution to their problems. 

The elderly nuns at the orphanage, presided over by Sônia Braga’s creepy Sister Silva, turn out to be a raucous bunch, exchanging saucy gossip over a lunchtime tipple, even trampolining with cigarettes in hand. The orphans are mostly sweet-natured, but there is one silent outsider who is a concern for the novice.

Margaret’s spirited Spanish roommate Luz (Caballero, excellent) insists they get glammed up and go nightclubbing, telling Margaret that they must celebrate their bodies to appreciate what they are giving up. During their night out matters take a darker turn.

Later Margaret is waylaid on the streets to Rome by troubled outsider priest Father Brennan (Ineson, playing the character played by Patrick Troughton in the original) who warns her of a plot being hatched in the orphanage walls.

The picture is burdened with the obligatory franchise call-backs, and redolent of Dario Argento’s original 1977 horror ‘Suspiria’ in its story of an American innocent thrust into an uncertain world and its operatically lurid (but non synthesiser) score by Mark Korven; as well as Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake in its vivid grainy, brown-hued recreation of the turbulent 70s. There are also nods to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Cronenberg-style body horror. Alongside the odd misfiring moment, director Stevenson and cinematographer Aaron Morton deliver some genuinely disturbing, darkly beautiful imagery, augmented by unnerving sound design.

Given this is a sequel, audiences broadly know where this is all going, and a third revelation will come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention. Still, the feverish feel Stevenson summons up, and Tiger Free’s fearless go-for-broke and increasingly hysterical performance as Margaret, keep the story on the rails.

The First Omen is out now

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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