Jewish horror has been on the slow rise these past few years, and the latest example is The Offering. Oliver Park‘s solo directorial debut takes place in a Hasidic borough of Brooklyn, and it revolves around a mysterious evil entity pressing down on a father and son’s already strained relationship. The uncanny menace grows stronger as it uses the main characters’ differences to its advantage, ultimately blurring the line between real and unreal as well as asking the importance of tradition.
Nick Blood‘s character Arthur hasn’t seen his father Saul (Allan Corduner) since they fell out years ago. Their estrangement is due to how Arthur’s mother’s death was handled; the son wanted direct comfort from his father, only to then be told to find consolation in their Jewish faith. What now brings Arthur back to his orthodox roots is practical and a tad underhanded, as Saul later learns. Arthur’s non-Jewish wife Emily (Emily Wiseman) becomes a mediator between the father and son, all the while focusing on her unborn child in these strange times.
The Offering is thoroughly planted in Hasidic Jewish culture, and this fact is accentuated after a certain body arrives in Saul’s funeral home. Not knowing the circumstances of the decedent’s death other than he took his own life, Saul and Art neither conduct the right rituals nor take proper precautions. For this body houses an ancient demon who preys on children. And with Emily pregnant and vulnerable, the demon is itching to come out and continue satisfying its unique appetite.
The characters of The Offering are a tortured bunch for the most part, and that angst breeds near tangible tension. From the awkward reunion between father and son, to the revelation as to why Arthur has come home to see Saul, the family strain practically outmatches the demonic threat. Saul’s associate at the funeral parlor, Heimish (Paul Kaye), precisely adds to the stress by making Art feel even more like an outcast than he already did. Screenwriter Hank Hoffman writes an accessible situation almost any removed parent or child can recognize and relate to.
Where The Offering loses a bit of strength is the actual horror, which is derivative of similar movies. The biggest difference is the backdrop, though the setting is what also sets the movie apart. When it comes time to meet the demon in question, the monster is objectively intimidating thanks to both its Pagan appearance and a tendency to jump out of nowhere. However, giving the demon an unmistakable form reads like a shortcut for scariness and a direct ticket to hoary horror.
The Offering finally takes on too much by having two main stories compete for the spotlight. Arthur’s struggle to forgive his father and make peace with the past comes across as the more pressing and interesting idea. Meanwhile, Claire staves off the demon’s pursuit of her baby. Each of these concepts could have been used in their own movie. Having a demon present brings these two storylines together in the end, but individually neither quite lives up to their potential.
This macabre collision of tradition and modernism is technically well made, and its cultural significance will not go unnoted. Keeping the focus on the father-son story rather than letting it go so early would have made a world of difference in the movie’s permanence, but as far as demon stories go, The Offering is a satisfying retooling of previous designs and subplots, also significantly improved by its environment.
The Offering premiered at Fantastic Fest 2022.