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The Offering

Oliver Park’s “The Offering” is a surprisingly strong genre alternative on one of the most crowded Friday the 13th release dates for horror fans in years. Opening wider than relatively small movies like this tend to do, it’s a film with echoes of religious horror like “The Omen” and family horror like “Hereditary,” but it also has its own culturally resonant voice due to the heavily Jewish story it tells. Park fumbles the several endings of an ultimately cluttered script, and the film works better when it’s allowed to be more atmospheric than literally demonic, but this throwback to a horror style that seemed more prevalent in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s makes me excited about what this filmmaker has to, sorry, offer in the future.

An introduction explains how there have been repeated stories since the 1st century in the Near East and Europe about a creature that is commonly described as a “taker of children.” Yes, it's one of those "ancient forces" movies. So when the film introduces the very pregnant Claire (Emm Wiseman) a few scenes later, it seems like “The Offering” is going to be a manipulative “expectant mother in jeopardy” flick. While Claire is about to have a very bad week, it’s not quite that.

In fact, it’s a family drama at first as Claire’s husband Art (Nick Blood) attempts a cautious reconciliation with his father Saul (the excellent veteran character actor Allan Corduner). The detail behind their estrangement is a bit unclear until Art emotionally reveals in a grounded way how dad wasn’t there for him while his mother was dying, kind of hinting that religion wasn't enough for a son's grief. Art also comes home with a secret—he needs dad’s funeral home as collateral for a deal. Yes, almost the entirety of this film takes place in a funeral home, one of my favorite settings for a horror flick. (There are even echoes of the excellent "The Autopsy of Jane Doe.")

The setting becomes essential when a neighbor’s body is wheeled in by Saul’s assistant Heimish (the great Paul Kaye, who does more with a toothpick to chew on than some actors do with a monologue). The poor neighbor plunged a knife into his own chest, which Art removes just before breaking the amulet around the dead man’s neck, releasing the malevolent force that the poor guy was trying to trap via his suicide in the first place. Nice one, Art.

Before you know it, things are very much going bump in the night and Park is playing with perspective and reality regarding that aforementioned “taker of children,” although that phrase starts to take on multiple meanings as a local girl (Sofia Weldon) has disappeared, Claire has one that will be born soon, and even Art himself is reminded of his status as an estranged child. Who will be taken? And what do all of these sigils and warnings mean?

“The Offering” works best in darkness, but Park too often turns up the brightness level on his potentially terrifying scenes, especially when it comes to a literal creature that kind of betrays the budget of the project in the final act. This is a film that’s often too well-lit—it’s almost the opposite of this week’s “Skinamarink” in that respect—and yet I was consistently impressed with Park and cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore’s use of space despite that misstep. Almost the whole thing takes place in one funeral home, and we start to feel as trapped in it as its characters.

The performances are a mixed bag—the older actors like Corduner and Kaye seem to understand the assignment more than the young ones—but this piece is about mood more than character, despite what feels like genuine religious underpinnings. Ultimately, my problem with so many religious horror films like “The Offering” is that they’re insulated in a way that makes them more often boring than terrifying, willing to let a languid pace try to set the mood instead of actual plotting. I was never bored watching “The Offering.” I haven’t seen all of this year’s Friday the 13th offerings yet, but I can safely say that won’t be true of all of them.

In theaters today.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

The Offering movie poster

The Offering (2023)

Rated R

93 minutes

Cast

Allan Corduner as Saul

Paul Kaye as Heimish

Nick Blood as Art

Emm Wiseman as Claire

Jonathan Yunger as Levi Siegelman

Daniel Ben Zenou as Chayim

Nathan Cooper as Worker

Director

Writer (story)

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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