Demon and ghostly possessions are commonly seen in horror films worldwide. Here in the States, though, we’re generally used to seeing it examined from a Catholic lens. When an opportunity presents itself to explore unfamiliar cultural demons beyond that typical scope, there’s a hint of excitement to take a step in and learn something new. The past couple of years has featured a slight influx in strong Jewish possession horror. The latest addition, THE OFFERING, feels almost interchangeable with other possession films despite the potential that could have been pulled from cultural sources. While featuring a well-developed atmosphere and a strong climactic third act, the film itself suffers from a lack of identity amidst its many story threads.
THE OFFERING follows Art (Nick Blood) and Claire (Emily Wiseman), a young expecting couple who return back to Art’s father’s home in New York. Previously estranged due to his decision to marry the non-Jewish Claire, this is an unexpected reunion of blood. Surprisingly, his father, Saul (Allan Corduner), is more than happy to accept Art back into his life and is friendly with Claire. With his son back home, Saul puts him immediately to work in the family’s morgue. As luck would have it, they receive a suicide case. Art attempts to handle the body, pulling out the knife from the man’s chest. Once that knife is pulled, that’s when things start to get bumpy for this family, and by bumpy, I mean positively demonic.
A fraying middle
THE OFFERING is directed by Oliver Park. The screenplay is written by Hank Hoffman and is based on a story by Hoffman and Jonathan Yunger. The opener highlights the horrifying promise THE OFFERING has, tapping into Park’s clear grasp of horror set-up as well as his architectural background as evidenced by the set design. Unfortunately, due in part to the writing, the middle suffers from too many undeveloped ideas and characters.
As the connective tissue, the middle is frayed. Tonally, it oscillates between drama and horror but, at times, the merging of the two genre tones is unsuccessful. There’s a lot going on that isn’t explored beyond the surface. We have Art as a lapsed Hasidic Jew returning home, the still lingering grief of his mother’s passing, the selfish reasonings behind why he’s returned, and Claire, as the only non-Jew, entering into this environment.
Viewers get more of a glimpse into the selfishness and a touch on Art’s grief, but not enough to truly solidify the emotional connection that would have made THE OFFERING stand on stronger legs. If the ideas had been cut down to one or two major conflicts, it would have helped it feel less busy.
About the Hasidic elements incorporated into THE OFFERING, I’m not certain about the accuracy as portrayed in the film. Since I’m not Jewish and lack knowledge of this, I am going to refer the reader to Jason Flatt’s breakdown here.
The performances in THE OFFERING
The development of the characters also could have been stronger on the page. Again, Nick Blood’s Art is grappling with so many interesting internal conflicts but, whether due to rewrites, direction, or performance, the character mostly reads as overwhelmed. Granted, everything that gets thrown at him is overwhelming, but you lose the inherent selfish undercurrent that has driven him to finally reach out to his father. Knowing that the character was more of a bad guy in earlier drafts, I wonder if keeping those elements would have lent itself to a stronger character presence.
As for Claire, while Wiseman does her best with the role, Claire reads underdeveloped. This is a shame since the bulk of the horror scares target both her and Art, with the demon fixating on the baby in her womb. By film’s end, there’s no real grasp of who Claire is outside of damsel-in-distress.
Standouts performance-wise in THE OFFERING can be found in its supporting cast. Allan Corduner and Paul Kaye infuse their small roles with plenty of character, creating a memorable presence. When going toe-to-toe with Blood, especially later on in the film, Kaye steals the scene.
In the climax, Blood, Kaye, and Wiseman act their socks off. The climax also highlights Park’s skills in horror, making great use of the set, shadows, and lighting to pull something that feels truly high stakes. Coupled with the final moments, THE OFFERING ends well. When taking the film in as a whole, what lessens the overall impact is its middle.
With a strong start and finish, THE OFFERING has such potential, and, if you don’t look too deeply, it can entertain. The horror elements and set-up throughout the film are done well, and makes me incredibly interested to see what director Oliver Park does next. I know I sound harsh regarding Blood’s performance, but his performance was okay given the material. Having seen him in previous works, I am critiquing him against that. Wiseman makes the best of what she’s been given, and the supporting performances in the film round things out.
Where THE OFFERING struggles are the various different themes and ideas it seems to want to explore, but doesn’t. Instead, ideas are left to linger in the air. The lack of development also impacts the characters, which makes it trickier to remember and understand who they are by film’s end. Based on the strong opening and the climatic third act, the writers have something special here. It’s just a matter of slimming down the middle to give a maximum punch in the end.
THE OFFERING is available now on Video On Demand.
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