We often say the word “trope” demeaningly, as if using a tested-and-approved formula was bad somehow. The fact remains that for something to become a trope, it had to be successfully repeated dozens of times. So, it’s not necessarily bad that a horror movie reuses tested-and-approved formulas to build its story if it at least lands the execution. That’s the case with Oliver Park’s The Offeringwhich checks multiple boxes in the horror cliche list while still delivering good-old fashion horror fun.
The first scene of The Offering does something horror movies should do, as it aligns the audiences’ expectations by revealing exactly what they’ll find in the next 93 minutes. The movie revolves around a demonic entity that messes up its victims’ minds, making them see things that are not there. This demon can also shapeshift and take the form of dead people. Finally, this is not your regular Christian demon, as the entity comes from an Orthodox Jewish tradition. It’s not a stretch to draw comparisons with Ole Bornedal’s The Possession or Keith Thomas’ The Vigilas The Offering also updates the demonic possession subgenre by shifting the focus to Judaism. Still, The Offering goes beyond your average Judaic horror movie to build something with serious franchise potential.
Like The Possession, The Offering deals with a demon that doesn’t work inside the constraints of Christian logic. There is no Hell in Jewish tradition, and Lucifer is not sending lackeys to grab the souls of the innocent. Instead, Jewish demons are actually dybbuks, evil spirits that corrupt humans for their own means, usually willing to feed on suffering. They are independent agents that don’t abide by a predefined set of rules, which means horror can get very creative when building these entities’ lore. That’s why The Possession and The Offering deal with the same dybbuk, Abyzou, while taking completely distinct approaches to it. And while The Possession still tries to adopt the ageless Christian exorcism structure, The Offering turns the table and builds a story that’s all about trapping a demon instead of expelling it.
The Offering‘s reverse-exorcism storyline is elevated by the creepy setting of a funerary home. There’s something unnerving about dead bodies, and Park’s latest film is aware of the discomfort the idea of death brings us all. Similar to The Vigil, The Offering also deals with the supernatural horror that a dead body can unleash on the world. Even so, the latter dives deeper into Jewish traditions without fear of alienating the public. So, while The Offering still builds its story over Jewish imagery and symbols, you won’t find a wise old man ready to explain the rituals you witness. The pieces are put together more subtly, as Park leaves enough unexplained to entice the viewer’s curiosity about a culture most of us don’t know much about. The strategy also leaves enough cracks for his nightmarish creature to slip through.
While The Offering is still too reliant on jumpscares, the movie finds a good balance between explaining the supernatural rules that govern the dybbuk and embracing the unknown, this powerful force that enlarges our fears. The movie also has a surprisingly solid human core, as The Offering features a competent cast charged with bringing flawed characters dealing with their faith, their childhood traumas, and the bonds that tie them to their families. But while Nick Blood and Emm Wiseman do a decent job as the movie’s leads, Allan Corduner and Paul Kaye shine the brightest. Kaye, in particular, steals the scene multiple times, adding unexpected layers to a simple supporting character. This also helps to underline how The Offering focuses on excellence instead of innovation.
There isn’t a single groundbreaking character in The Offering or a thoughtful message hidden behind surprising metaphors. Instead, you get what you come for in Park’s Jewish horror film. That means spooky children, distorted reflections in the mirrors, and flickering lights. On the surface, it may sound that The Offering just compiled previous horror movies into a single storyline, and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Still, Park knows exactly how to put everything together in a way that doesn’t feel forced or gratuitous, with the evils lurking in the funerary house actually serving a story of sacrifice and legacy. It’s a predictable story, for sure, but one that was polished enough to make it well worth your time.
Not every horror movie needs to reinvent the well and offer never-seen-before elements. Sometimes, we just need some well-made scares, even better if they come with real emotional stakes. The Offering won’t get any points for originality, but people looking for well-crafted horror can’t go wrong with Park’s latest film.
The Offering comes to theaters and digital on January 13.