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The First Omen

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In Theaters


Home Release Date




Paul Asay

Movie Review

It’s 1971, and the Catholic Church has seen better days.

Oh, it’s not like Vatican City is about to close up shop. But Cardinal Lawrence looks out his car window and sees signs of warning. The people are protesting, just as they have for weeks. And while older protesters are seeking higher wages and shorter work weeks, younger ones seem to be railing against authority itself. Even that of the Church.

The Cardinal’s furrowed brow and lined lips betray not just his age, but his anxiety. But he smiles at his fellow passenger: 21-year-old Margaret, whom Lawrence has known since she was a troubled little girl giving the nuns caring for her fits. After so many fitful years, Margaret’s on track to become a nun herself now.

Already she wears a novitiate habit, ready to commit the rest of her life to Christ—whatever He might ask of her. Margaret is devout and enthusiastic. And as she stares at the ancient streets of Rome unfolding before her, she marvels at the city’s history and beauty.

“What better place for you to take the veil?” Cardinal Lawrence says with a smile. And he means it. The Eternal City needs this bright, fresh-faced novitiate—someone who can help remind it, and the world, of the Church’s beauty and power.

Before that fateful day comes, Margaret—by invitation of Cardinal Lawrence himself—will work at an all-girl orphanage, not so unlike the one in which Margaret herself was raised.

But if it all seems familiar to Margaret, one girl seems especially so.

While the orphanage teems with laughing, smiling girls, one is separated from the rest. Margaret cautiously walks into her room and tries to make conversation. But the girl, Carlita, stares with wary eyes.

Then, she crawls toward Margaret, under the bed.

She grabs Margaret’s face.

And the girl licks her.

An older nun, Sister Silvia, explains that Carlita’s being kept apart for now, given that she just bit another girl. And the pictures Carlita draws are dark and full of shadows. She’s disturbed, to be sure.

But dangerous?

Margaret doubts it. After all, was Margaret herself so different when she was a child? Didn’t she imagine terrors all around her? Maybe the girl’s isolation is exacerbating her issues. Maybe all Carlita needs is a friend. A little good advice. Someone who can show her the healing love and grace of God—and show her that He has a purpose for her.

But others believe Carlita has a purpose, too.

Indeed, they’re counting on it.

Positive Elements

Margaret does indeed seem to be just the sort of person the Church would want working for it. She’s devout, sincere and absolutely determined to follow God’s will for her life. And just as importantly, she’s very loving and caring, too. Her prayers express a childlike faith that emphasizes how God does indeed love, and can save, everyone.

The nuns’ strict rules and methods rankle Margaret at times. Still, she remains convinced that that they might be doing Carlita more harm than good. And while we can have a discussion about the Christian discipline of submission, Margaret’s desire to help Carlita—and her belief that love can help the girl more than a heaping pile of punishments and restrictions—comes from a good and healthy place.

When a rogue priest named Father Brennan suggests that there’s something diabolical at work, Margaret at first shrugs it off as madness. But when circumstances grow evermore dire, she, Brennan and others risk their lives to bring an insidious plot to light and (especially in Margaret’s case) seek to save Carlita’s life.

Carlita, at one critical juncture risks her own life for someone else’s too.

Spiritual Elements

The First Omen is obviously saturated with spiritual content. Most of our primary characters here are priests, nuns or novitiates, and they wear traditional habits and priestly garb. We see the interiors of a couple elaborate sanctuaries, and Margaret prays in them with ever-increasing fervor.

Luz, a fellow novitiate, talks lovingly about how she was brought to the veil after hearing a voice deep inside her: “For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged on the Earth,” she confesses to Margaret. (Margaret says that she felt no such supernatural calling, but rather a conviction and a sense of thankfulness to the Church for rescuing her from her difficult childhood. A member of the clergy talks lovingly about how God is using someone for His glorious purpose.

But—and here we come to perhaps a minor spoiler, though it’s hinted at quite early on—that “glorious purpose,” in the interpretation of this guy, involves bringing the Antichrist into the world in order to refocus that world’s attention on the Church.

Turns out, the events in the prequel The First Omen (and, by extension, earlier Omen movies that chronologically “follow”) are orchestrated by clergy inside the Catholic Church, though not necessarily by the Church as a whole. Father Brennan says that there are two churches at work: the body of Christ-loving believers to which he and Margaret and others belong; and a fear-driven, control-driven church that’s not so much concerned with grace and sin as it is with power. (Brennan namechecks some of the Catholic Church’s historical and modern sins as signs of that other, darker institution.)

Naturally, a handful of demonic calling cards are thrown on the movie’s table as well. The number 666 gets a lot of attention. We see monstrous claws and (what would seem to be) tentacles at times. Artistic depictions of a mother and child (intended to call to mind Mary and Jesus) take on a more sinister aura. And the scrawled drawings of Carlita and others depict very creepy nuns, demons and other foreboding spiritual images.

We see a painting of Satan devouring someone. A character occasionally seems possessed by a darker force. Characters are sometimes visited by apparent apparitions.

Parts of Lica Signorelli’s painting “The Damned Cast Into Hell” are frequently seen on screen, depicting demons torturing and toting around naked sinners.

Sexual Content

The First Omen does contain some nudity, but we’ll talk about that further in the Violent Content section below.

When we first meet Luz (Margaret’s fellow novitiate and roommate), she’s coming in from a night on the town, wearing a revealing top and fishnet stockings. She explains to Margaret that before she gives her body to Christ, she’d like to engage in a “little healthy exploration before the big day.” As she changes into more modest clothes, Margaret watches—seemingly with a mixture of curiosity and shame. (We see Luz’s bare back, but nothing more.)

She later encourages Margaret to join her for a similar outing. Margaret reluctantly wears a top with plunging cleavage and, clearly, no bra. (We don’t see anything critical.) Margaret goes with the greatest reluctance. But when she meets someone (Paulo), drinks a little too much and hits the dance floor, she transforms—sensually dancing with her partner and ultimately licking his face. (Yes, there’s a lot of licking in this movie.)

A nun inexplicably kisses Margaret on the lips.

Violent Content

The First Omen contains some sexual encounters between women and a supernatural entity that feel nonconsensual (though some victims might’ve been initially willing). The women are strapped to gurneys and their faces are covered with black cloth. In one scene, a claw strokes a naked belly. And the prevailing mood in all those scenes is quiet terror and revulsion.

Birthing scenes, meanwhile, take this all up a notch.

One such scene reportedly earned The First Omen an NC-17 rating at first: A pregnant woman prepares to deliver a baby—at first terrified, then drugged and laughing, then in incredible pain. During very brief snippets, moviegoers see the woman’s most private regions during the birthing process—most notably when gray, monstrous fingers poke out of her vagina.

Another birthing scene depicts a diabolical C-section, wherein a woman’s belly is sliced open, and hands reach in to—it would seem—take out the woman’s entire womb. The camera then circles around to the onlookers as the woman quietly begs for help and mentions that she’s in pain. When the camera returns to the woman and the operation, the bulbous womb is on a table, itself being sliced open.

The movie tells us that people have been trying to bring about the Antichrist’s birth using such methods for decades, perhaps even centuries. Recent files contain pictures of dead and horribly deformed infants.

Carlita is intended to be part of the next pairing—even though the girl is only about 13 years old. When Carlita draws a picture showing a baby growing in her belly, a particularly creepy nun whispers to Margaret that she thinks the picture is “beautiful.”

Several people die, mysteriously and horribly. When a stained glass window and a pipe tumble from scaffolding a few stories high, a man beneath suffers a gory gash through his skull—but manages to walk around for a while afterward. Another man is cut in two when a car strikes him: We learn this when someone tries to pull him to safety. Another car crash claims the lives of two more individuals; we see bloody marks where their heads smashed into windows, as well as glimpses of their pulped heads.

Perhaps most notably, a woman sets herself on fire, then—in a literal example of overkill—hangs herself.

A church is set on fire, and several people nearly die in the blaze. A dog-like creature is immolated. Someone is stabbed in the neck. Rioters overturn cars and set them on fire.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and about four misuses of God’s name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Luz and Margaret drink at a nightclub. When Luz asks Margaret if she can still feel her feet (and Margaret confirms that she can), Luz quickly orders another round of shots. Margaret gets pretty intoxicated as the evening goes on—an intoxication that may be augmented by other chemicals—and the next morning, Margaret asks Luz whether she did anything too bad during the evening.

Women in labor are given various drugs, delivered by syringes or breathing masks.

Other Negative Elements

Several people lie. Elements of the Catholic Church are portrayed rather negatively.


It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The most literal example ever? The First Omen. Sure, I can understand that devout Catholics might’ve been a little worried about people leaving the Church, circa 1971. But the solution probably isn’t to try to birth the Antichrist, y’know? Maybe you should start with a potluck or something.

But while you could perhaps argue that the movie’s evildoers meant well, I’m not so sure we can say the same thing for the movie itself.

The First Omen is a prequel to the 1976 movie The Omen—a film that was certainly disturbing and gross, but one that stressed some important spiritual points. One, the devil was real. Two, there were plenty of folks out there hoping to further his diabolical plans. And three, we should really take the issue seriously. And while you can argue that the movie itself wasn’t all that serious in its spiritual convictions, it was convicting enough that, anecdotally, I know of  a few folks it drew back into the faith. I’m assuming others might credit the film for doing the same.

I’m not sure if The First Omen will have the same spiritual pull. Certainly, it too posits that the devil is quite real. But it also tells us that the Church is part of the problem.

“I think the Catholic Church wielded a different kind of power and influence [in 1971],” executive producer Tim Smith told Variety, “so we used this film as an opportunity to speak to institutions in power and how they respond to fear, how they cling to that power under threat, about the dangers of ideology, about patriarchal institutions, to turn a mirror to the horrors of our time. We were using religious horror as a means of tapping into other fears that resonated with us.”

Despite all the obvious supernatural peril floating about, the film suggests the solution isn’t found in prayer (which seems conspicuously ineffective here): It’s to be found in listening to our own inner intuitions. And that, from a Scriptural standpoint, is troubling.

Also troubling: the movie’s extraordinarily extreme content.

As mentioned, The First Omen was very nearly given an NC-17 rating—largely for that disturbing birthing sequence, apparently. But after resubmitting the film to the MPA four times—with the problematic scene still included with every resubmission—the MPA eventually relented.

But even if the scene had been cut, The First Omen would still have plenty of deal-killing problems. The blood, the gore, the menacing sexualized terror, all of which make this a difficult film to watch, much less recommend.

The First Omen seems determined to give birth to its own little baby—a healthy, financially successful movie that might, in turn, birth a multi-branched franchise. But this cinematic offspring is dark and troubled, and perhaps we should hope the line ends here.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.