The Offering

Jewish-themed horror movies are ‌rare but this year’s Fantastic Fest features at least two films that explore the rich and fantastic pantheon of Jewish folklore and the role of kabbalah, the intense study of mysticism, and the occult by Jewish scholars. Director Oliver Park and screenwriter Hank Hoffman delve into complex, familial themes of grief, denial, and shame within a Hasidic family in the horror drama The Offering (2022). Arthur (Nick Blood) and his pregnant, gentile wife Claire (Emily Wiseman) return to his childhood home, hoping to reconcile with his father Saul (Allan Corduner). But long-buried truths and new secrets surface and tensions rise as an ancient demon tries to steal Claire’s unborn child.

Arthur’s childhood home reflects the lives of the people in it.  The stately home doubles as a funeral parlor, catering to the ultraorthodox and reclusive Hasidim. It is a beautiful, and ornately decorated 19th-century brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. Religious artifacts, candles, and old portraits cover every surface, creating an atmosphere of timelessness and reverence. As the story moves forward, the inside gets messier and more disheveled as the demon’s influence grows.

The Offering provides a rare glimpse into the life of Hasidic Jews. In the orthodox and secretive sect, the men dress in traditional garb, curly payots adorning the sides of their heads, and full beards, wearing long black coats with yarmulkes on their heads. Art and Claire are outsiders in an alien and, at times, unwelcoming territory. Saul’s overprotective friend, Heimish (Paul Kaye), is overtly suspicious and hostile towards Art’s reappearance in Saul’s life.

The Offering
Saul (Allan Corduner), Heimish (Paul Kaye), and Arthur (Nick Blood)

From golems made from mud to spirits of the dead that possess the living called dybbuks, Jewish mythology has a wide variety of creations, each with its own unique lore. The Offering doesn’t give much information about its terrifying demon other than a few expository lines at the beginning of the movie. While this lack of how it came into being, its name, or what purpose it serves doesn’t hurt the movie though it would have made it more engaging. The demon’s appearance, when it shows itself, is very striking. The majority of the time, its method of attack is to trap Arthur and Claire in a dream world.  These dream passages provide some of the film’s most intense moments.

At a brisk 93 minutes, The Offering seems overcrowded. Despite excellent performances by the cast, Park and Hoffman’s movie swings wildly between its dramatic moments and supernatural terrors.  Arthur and Saul’s path to healing and reconciliation is heavy and full of heartbreaking moments that cried for more time.  Some narrative threads, such as Arthur needing to use his father’s funeral home as collateral for his own debts, get introduced, then are left forgotten and unresolved.

Woven between the scenes of intense drama are plenty of loud jump scares.  While these audio crescendos are effective in the beginning, experienced horror fans will quickly learn to expect them whenever the soundtrack gets too quiet. This conditioning takes much of the fun out of the movie, leaving the audience mired in the dark and depressing family story.

Overall, The Offering is a well-made, powerful family drama about reconciliation and a frightening haunted house tale set in a beautifully rendered location within a unique and secretive subculture.  The film is an ambitious and entertaining story that keeps the viewer involved all the way to the end and hints at great things from its makers.

 

We Watched The Offering as Part of the 2022 Fantastic Fest Line-up

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