Fine supernatural spookfest with ‘The First Omen’; ‘Origin’ is a taxing social studies lecture; OK Oz war film ‘Before Dawn’ set to disappear wirhout trace

Nun trial: Nell Tiger Free feels the wrath in ‘The First Omen’.

THE FIRST OMEN *** (119 minutes) MA
Given how we didn’t really need another Omen movie, the origin story served up in The First Omen is a surprisingly classy, creepy outing.

Well-directed by feature first-timer Arkasha Stevenson – very adept at low light atmospherics and ghoulish visuals – we’re taken back to 1971 Rome where wannabe nun Margaret Daino (Nell Tiger Free) arrives from America to work in an orphanage before joining up.

Under the care of long-time mentor Cardinal Lawrence (Bill Nighy) she befriends Sister Silvia (Sônia Braga, the latest in a long line of screen beauties to adorn the veil) she is exposed to the church’s cleverly kept conspiracy about how best to draw followers back to the collection plate, namely by curating the birth of the anti-Christ.

Supernatural silliness on this scale demands unwavering gravitas and scarily committed performances, which the film delivers in spades.

There’s solid support from Ralph Ineson (remember Finchy from The Office?) as a renegade priest and look fast for the lovely nod to the original 1976 Omen film via the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Gregory Peck. A nice touch.

ORIGIN ** (141 minutes) M
From director Ava DuVernay, who gave us the superb civil rights drama Selma, here delivers an elongated social studies lecture about racism and how it relates to the operation of caste in society.

Written by DuVernay based on the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, the film is as well-meaning and self-consciously worthy as it is dreary and repetitive. While its points are well-made, the film might unspool better in the stream, when you can pause at will. In the cinema, however, it’s a very long sit.

BEFORE DAWN **1/2 (100 minutes) M
Here’s another Australian feature film set to circle the drain once before vanishing without trace.

Though its small budget shows through a little too often, it’s a fine wartime drama set in the Somme trenches as a small group of West Australian lads facing the grime and carnage of the battlefront.

Director Jordon Prince-Wright, who co-wrote the piece with Jarrad Russell, does a good job recreating the mud-smeared reality of the trenches, but strains to pull off scenes requiring scale.

Based on real writings from soldiers, the film features good performances from a solid cast including Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Myles Pollard and Stephen Peacocke.

Arriving in cinemas with virtually no public profile, the film is destined to promptly disappear before resurfacing on TV at some point.