Exorcisms are a favorite topic in horror movies for obvious reasons; succinctly, demons are scary. But while we’ve seen a lot of films tackle possession and evil spirits through a Catholic lens, it’s rarer to see other religions brought into the story. That’s a big way that The Offering, about a Hasidic family facing a violent intrusion, stands out.
Really, only the patriarch, Saul (Allan Corduner), and his business partner/best friend, Heimish (Paul Kaye), are religious, running Saul’s funeral parlor in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood for a close-knit community that’s weathered a number of tragic deaths recently. Saul’s son Arthur (Agents of SHIELD’s Nick Blood) grew up in the home that’s built over the business, but the two have been estranged since Arthur’s mother died. So it’s a happy if trepidatious occasion when Art and his wife, Claire (Emily Wiseman)—who is a) very pregnant and b) not Jewish—arrive for a visit.
Saul is surprisingly warm and welcoming, but already the elements for conflict are in place, and that’s without mentioning the money issues that Art has been hiding from Claire—or the fact that he’s plotting to remedy said problems by using his father’s property as loan collateral. However, all that real-world stuff is nothing compared to the supernatural menace we’re introduced to in The Offering’s opening scene, in which one of Saul’s neighbors, an elderly man grieving his recently deceased wife, enters into a final battle with the demon he’s accidentally summoned while trying to make contact with her on the other side. And it’s no mystery who we’re dealing with; The Offering warns us even before the title sequence about a demon widely known in mythology as “the taker of children.”
If you’re thinking Claire and Art’s visit comes at a particularly dangerous time, well, you’d be right. That becomes patently clear when the old man’s corpse arrives for embalming at Saul’s funeral home, and the presence that’s attached to him begins using its mind-fuck powers on everyone—with a special emphasis on disturbing visions and jump scares aimed at Claire.
The Offering’s story itself doesn’t throw too many curveballs, but the performances are excellent—Kaye, who played fan-favorite character Thoros of Myr on Game of Thrones, is especially memorable as the shit-talking, fiercely loyal Heimish—and the “home is where the funeral home is” setting makes for a perfectly creepy backdrop. Situating the story within the Hasidic community also brings an extra layer of conflict and interest, as Art negotiates his status as a self-made outsider and Claire strives to be gracious in an unfamiliar world. As specific as that world is, however, the spooky stuff feels fairly universal. Though the imperiled characters do end up contacting a religious scholar—Daniel Ben-Zenou, basically playing the equivalent of Rod Steiger in The Amityville Horror—there’s only so much expertise anyone can bring when facing an entity spawned from one man’s sorrow… hungry as hell for its next meal.
The Offering is in theaters and on digital today, January 13.
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