REVIEW: “The Offering” (2023)

Jewish folklore meets horror’s demon possession sub-genre in director Oliver Park’s smart and sinister new chiller “The Offering”. Written by Hank Hoffman from a story he conceived with Jonathan Yunger, this surprisingly rich and devilishly spooky tale digs into themes of family, reconciliation, repentance, and sacrifice. At the same time, it fully embraces many elements of the horror genre, leading to its eerie atmosphere and ominous sense of dread. Best of all, nothing about “The Offering” feels old hat.

Park and Hoffman’s melding of classic horror with strained family dynamics is a key ingredient that sets “The Offering” apart. It has the perfect horror movie setting which Park utilizes to the fullest, and genre fans will immediately recognize many of his techniques and tricks. But it’s his keen management of tone rather than an over-reliance on cheap jump scares that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Image Courtesy of DECAL

Then you have the family angle which adds some unexpectedly potent layers to the story. From the father-son tensions to their Hasidic background, Park gives a lot of attention to developing the frayed family at the center of Hoffman’s story. But its the details, both familial and cultural, that not only enrich the drama, but that feeds directly into the horror. It ends up turning something potentially conventional into a more thoughtful yet delightfully creepy experience.

After years away from home, Art (Nick Blood), along with his pregnant wife Claire (Emily Wiseman), arrive in Borough Park, Brooklyn where his estranged father Saul (a terrific Allan Corduner) owns and operates Feinberg Funeral Home. They arrive unannounced and with no real explanation other than Art’s desire (at Claire’s urging) to reconcile with his father.

Saul is delighted yet understandably curious at his son’s sudden reappearance. He welcomes Art with open arms and immediately hits it off with Claire, who happens to be non-Jewish. But Heimish (Paul Kaye), a long-time family friend who also works at the funeral home, is much more skeptical. He doesn’t trust Art and warns Saul to keep his guard up.

Things take a more sinister turn after the body of a local Jewish man arrives at the funeral home. During the film’s opening prologue we see man encounter a terrifying demon known by many different languages, cultures, and religions as “The Taker of Children”. Before dying, the man was able to trap the demon within his body and seal it inside by an enchanted pendant. As long as the demon remains in the dead body it is powerless. But if the pendant is taken away or destroyed, the seal will be broken. See where this is going?

Image Courtesy of DECAL

As the story unfolds we’re treated to more family drama as Art’s motives for returning are revealed. And we get more frights once the demon is inevitably let loose in the cold unnerving funeral home. Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography is essential to capturing the mood Park is going for, making especially great use of lighting and shadows. Add to it Park’s confidence in his vision and his ability to build tension through his camera, often by small and/or or subtle choices that really enhance a number of scenes.

And then you have the heavy infusion of Jewish faith and folklore; of ritual and tradition. It’s a component that effectively places us within an immersive orthodox world that will be as foreign to some (myself included) as any purely fictional setting. It’s authentic and eye-opening. But it also brings something fresh and original to the horror genre. And as any honest fan will tell you, freshness and originality aren’t words often associated with the horror movies of today. They certainly apply here. “The Offering” is now showing in select theaters and on digital/VOD.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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