Horror

Delroy Lindo Joins Ryan Coogler’s Mysterious Supernatural Thriller

Nell Tiger Free (“Servant”) stars in The First Omen, an upcoming prequel to the original 1976 horror classic directed by Arkasha Stevenson

The new prequel movie from 20th Century Studios will unleash hell in theaters on April 5, 2024. It’s rated “R” for “Violent content, grisly/disturbing images, and brief graphic nudity.”

The First Omen is based on characters created by David Seltzer (The Omen), with a story by Ben Jacoby (“Bleed”) and a screenplay by Tim Smith & Arkasha Stevenson and Keith Thomas (Firestarter). It follows young novitiate Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) as she’s sent to Rome to begin a life of service to the church. There, she encounters a darkness that causes her to question her own faith and uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that hopes to bring about the birth of evil incarnate.

Ahead of the film’s release, Bloody Disgusting spoke with filmmaker Arkasha Stevenson about tackling a prequel to a heralded classic, including a unique approach to sound and capturing period authenticity.

Creating a horror prequel comes with the unenviable task of keeping savvy audiences on their toes when the ending seems preordained. How do you keep viewers invested in a story with a seemingly forgone conclusion?

Stevenson walks us through her approach to that, “I think you actually stated the key to that is that we know what’s going to happen at the end, right? I think the script, we were just so in love with it because it dovetails into the ’76 version so seamlessly and answers the question of how Damien came into existence. For us, I work with a creative partner, Tim Smith, who is my co-writer on this. For us, there’s a lot of anxiety involved in trying to expand upon The Omen franchise. The original Omen is one of my favorite movies, and it’s a perfect film, so you kind of can’t touch it. But what the script allowed us to do was, it allowed us to explore a whole new character and a whole new world and journey that allowed us to bring our own personal thoughts and perspectives to it.

“I think that’s what Richard Donner did so well in the original, and why that film is such a classic is because everything’s very grounded. These relationships are very grounded. The camera and the way everything is covered is very egoless and un-stylistic, but very elegant. So, you’re constantly just aware of these relationships on screen, and then it’s really just in these very dramatic horror set pieces that you start to see a little bit more style, which I really loved and really appreciated. We wanted to emulate that a bit in this film by making it really character first and keeping the camera quite quiet until you start to feel the presence of something supernatural. This world is starting to swirl, and then the camera can take on a life of its own and become a little bit more stylish.

Nell Tiger Free in The First Omen

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Stevenson’s prequel takes place in 1971, a time and place familiar to The Omen fans. The director took care in establishing the period through sepia tones, soft lighting, and a robust cast of extras to further flesh out this lived-in world. Getting the period right was vital for Stevenson, and she credits her crew for bringing her vision to life.

She explains, “I think something that was really important to us was to make it feel like we’re in the 1970s. A big hope dream of mine was that maybe if somebody watched this in a double feature with the 1976 Omen, that maybe they would think our film was filmed in the same era. So aesthetically, really trying to couch it within that aesthetic. We got to work with these incredible collaborators. Eve Stewart was our production designer. Paco Delgado was our costume designer, and then our cinematographer was Aaron Morton. They had such a keen attention to detail that they were able to really transport us back in time.

“Then also, we got to shoot in Italy and we got to shoot in Rome. I think everybody, no matter what they do in Italy, is just an artist. It’s just in their blood. And so even the extras brought so much passion to what they were doing in the scenes. The riot scene was really daunting to me thinking about shooting that. We wrote it in and then realized, ‘Oh, we have to put this on camera.’ There was 300 extras.”

Behind the scenes in Rome on The First Omen

(L-R): Director Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN. Photo by Moris Puccio. © 2024 All Rights Reserved.

The First Omen also has a rather recognizable name among the crew in the credits: director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters DownThe Strangers: Prey At Night). Collaborating with Roberts on The First Omen brought Stevenson full circle when it came to her love of horror.

“He did our second unit in principal photography, and he is just one of the most delightful humans on earth,” Stevenson said of Roberts. “He had known our producer, Keith Levine, who brought him on. It was really fun because his DP was Ryan Samul who did, have you seen this movie? We Are What We Are. He shot that. That was one of the films I saw going into film school that got me really excited about making films. So it was just this really interesting full circle moment.”

While The First Omen offers a myriad of ties to the original film in narrative and style, Arkasha Stevenson also pays tribute to Jerry Goldsmith‘s iconic score and “Ave Satani” from the original film. But it’s more than just a tribute; Stevenson evolves the score in The First Omen and brings it more directly into the horror.

“We got to work with Mark Korven, who I think is just such a dark genius,” Stevenson tells Bloody Disgusting. “It’s very intimidating to work with him just because I think he has a hand in a whole other world. The assumption would be in an Omen prequel that you’re going to use the Oscar-winning Goldsmith score. Something that was really important to both Mark and me was to be able to create something that felt like it could be a sister of that score but also was its own creature. Using vocals was really exciting because a lot of this has to do with Margaret’s suppressed intuition and trying to hear her own voice, while these exterior voices are also telling her so much.

“So, to create that feeling with the score by using these vocals that were slowly escalating throughout the entire film. But also, there are these moments where Margaret and the score interact with each other. There’s a moment where she hears the score and pays attention. Then there’s a moment later where the score is feeling what Margaret’s feeling, and physically, she gets pushed down on the bed, and the vocals go, ‘Whoop,’ like they just got pushed on the bed, and it created this feeling of a Greek choir was constantly surrounding her. I thought that was brilliant on Mark’s part.”

Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free behind the scenes

(L-R): Director Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN. Photo by Moris Puccio. © 2024 All Rights Reserved.

Much has already been teased about the near NC-17 rating the prequel almost received for a graphic scene, but there’s one key horror moment that’s sure to get horror fans talking that sees Nell Tiger Free channel her inner Isabelle Adjani from 1981’s Possession. That nod wasn’t accidental, either, as Stevenson walks us through what it was like filming this riveting scene.

I mean, of course, we did a shameless Possession homage. That was, I think, one of my favorite moments in any film ever. I am obsessed with it, and it felt like such a natural climax for what Margaret was going through. Nell is a force of nature. One of the things that’s so amazing about her is that she is very aware of her body and very intuitive and very instinctual. So, in that scene, we didn’t know each other that well yet. That was the second week. It was, I think, maybe the first day of the second week. The crew was still getting to know each other. She was still trying to get to know the crew. And it was 4:00 AM. We had just smashed a car. Then it’s like, Nell walks on, and I’ve never been more nervous in my life.

“I don’t know why. Just because this, in itself, is such sacred territory and there’s a lot of pressure to bring your own vision to it. I was worried, ‘Does Nell feel comfortable?’ I was like, ‘Do you want music? Should we block it out? What do you want to do?’ And she was like, ‘I just want to do it.’ Okay, rock on. She did two takes, and that was it. Each take lasted over three minutes. I mean, I would just play the whole take. In the director’s cut, the whole takes in there.”

 

 

 

Originally Published Here.

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