[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “The First Omen.”]

In the IP-mad world of Hollywood, we’ve got remakes and sequels, re-quels and “legacy prequels,” entire cinematic timelines up-ended and rearranged, whole franchises twisted to and fro, so isn’t it refreshing to see something like Arkasha Stevenson‘s “The First Omen”? It’s the rare contemporary horror prequel that wears its devotion to the original series on its sleeve (hell, on its habit), while also cleverly reorienting previous events to chart a potential new storyline.

The basis of Stevenson’s film, which she co-wrote with producers Tim Smith and Keith Thomas, takes a classic subplot from Richard Donner’s 1976 chiller — that not only is young Damien the Antichrist, but that he was the product of a planned spawning between the Devil and a female jackal — and makes it a touch more believable. In “The First Omen,” Damien’s mom isn’t actually a jackal, but young would-be nun Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) who is part of a long line of experiments — done by some of the Catholic Church’s most faithful and most insane brass — executed with the express intent of bringing the Antichrist into the world.

By the end of the film, Margaret has discovered the plan, her place in it, and given birth to Damien … and his sister (OK, yes, that’s new). Baby Damien is then foisted onto unknowing American diplomat Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck in Donner’s film), who simply thinks he’s accepting a poor orphaned baby who just so happened to be born the very night his own son died in childbirth. Such convenience!

And such a solid callback to Donner’s film, as Stevenson’s even includes a shot of one of the evil church members eyeing the same headshot of Peck used in Donner’s film when he’s first revealed to the audience. So, yes, not only is “The First Omen” very much a prequel to “The Omen,” it also exists in the same universe, the one where Peck’s Robert adopts baby Damien.

As Stevenson previously told IndieWire, she is a devout fan of “The Omen” and original star Gregory Peck, and said including the actual shot of Peck-as-Robert was a no-brainer.

“You’ve got to have Gregory! We all need him. We all love him,” Stevenson told IndieWire during a recent interview. “Just that face conjures up a lot of childhood memories for me, you know? So I was kind of hoping that it does the same for the other ‘Omen’ fans out there.”

So while baby Damien goes to the Thorn family, where he will presumably live out the events that followed the first “Omen” film, including “Damien: Omen II” (which follows him as a plucky teen) and “Omen III: The Final Conflict” (which charts his rise to power as an adult), what of Margaret and her baby daughter?

THE FIRST OMEN, from left: director Arkasha Stevenson, Nell Tiger Free, on set, 2024. ph: Moris Puccio / © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection
Director Arkasha Stevenson and star Nell Tiger Free on the set of ‘The First Omen’©20th Century Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection

Stevenson’s film ends with the reveal that Margaret, her daughter (now about age five, the same age Damien is when he starts getting really wild in Donner’s film), and another survivor of the hey-let’s-breed-the-Antichrist scheme Carlita (Nicole Sorace) are all living together in a quiet, snowy mountain town.

And while Margaret may be hoping her time with pure evil is through, it’s very much not, as Father Brennan (played by Ralph Ineson in Stevenson’s film, picking up from Donner’s casting of Patrick Troughton) arrives at their home with a warning. Thus, “The First Omen” — which already dovetails beautifully with Donner’s film — falls even further in line with the first film, hinting at the opportunity for a twinned timeline to play out in possible sequels.

“What I love about ‘The Omen’ universe is that there’s just so much material to tap into,” Stevenson said. “We are dealing with the human heart, Heaven, Hell, and what we perceive as good and evil and the roads that lead us to Hell. So while I think the purpose of this film was to answer a big question — where did Damien come from? — for me, it might have answered that, but a whole new can of questions have popped open.”

So, where will those questions take us? If Stevenson has her way — and the film is a hit for Disney and 20th Century Studios — she’s got plenty of space to play.

“I think that there’s so much leeway to either move [in different directions], even continue to go back in time or to [move forward and] follow Margaret and the girls,” she said. “I’m very happy to flow in either direction. I love this world.”

A 20th Century Studios release, “The First Omen” is now in theaters.

Leave a comment