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The Offering 2023 Movie Review
The need to adapt to a changing world and the need to stay connected to ancient things collide in Oliver Park’s chilling second feature film, which screened at Fantastic Fest 2022. Rooted in the challenges of combining an ancient way of life with modern values, it’s also a story about the many kinds of love which exist within families, and how sometimes the most sympathetic of motives are what lead us astray.
Art (Nick Blood) hasn’t been to see his father Saul (Allan Corduner) for several years. Though one suspects that the reasons why they have found themselves at odds run deeper, the ostensible cause of it is Claire (Emily Wiseman), the gentile woman whom Art has chosen to marry. She is now pregnant and keen to find a way of bringing the family back together. Art, however, has another motive for returning, stemming from a crisis which he has concealed from her. he needs his father’s help, and just needs to find the right moment to talk to him. It’s something which he becomes increasingly uncomfortable about as it emerges that Saul, far from being the angry man he remembers, has made a big effort to change his views so that he can welcome Claire into the family.
It’s difficult, he explains to her, for an outsider to get up to speed on a culture which has a heavy focus on the internal, on things not easily seen. He makes it clear that he is ready to forgive her any mis-steps and act as a guide if she has questions; she, in turn, pays careful attention to what she observes around her, covers her hair and makes it clear that she’s ready to learn. The chemistry between the two is something special. Corduner is on exceptional form and imbues the early part of the film with warmth and hope. Unluckily for them both, the stakes are much higher than they realise, and what Claire doesn’t know will have terrible consequences.
This is hinted at in a prologue. An old man in a crowded basement room, standing inside a protective circle, carrying out a ritual. What looks like a 12-year-old girl standing outside the circle, arguing with him. What she wants, he is no longer willing to provide. That he did so before was a consequence of his longing for the woman he loved, but the horror of it has become too much to bear. The confrontation between these characters has violent consequences. After we have become established in Saul’s home, we discover that the family business, a mortuary, is located beneath it, and that the body of the man from the prologue is sitting there waiting to be dissected.
The name of the demon who haunts this film is never mentioned directly – Judaism, in common with many other traditions around the world, holds that to name such a thing is to risk giving it power. There are heavy hints, however; it is described as female, as a taker of children. There’s a blue pendant on the body with an amulet inside it; one wonders if it bears the names of Senoy, Sansenoy and Samlegot. Supplied with the body, probably to add explanatory detail to the post mortem, is a knife which Saul enquires about, the first hint that something here may be amiss; the enquiry serves as a reminder that whilst many Jewish scholars are familiar with these myths, that doesn’t mean that they take them very seriously. There is help available, but not until things are going seriously wrong – and then, of course, it may well be too late.
Heavy with human tragedy and chilling intimations, The Offering benefits from magnificent production design which interweaves character information and subtly obscured plot points whilst combining with Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography to create a heady atmosphere. The deep hues of floral wallpapers and dark wooden furniture, often seen in yellow lamplight, speak to the context in which this home was decorated, the care taken of it since and the way that it threatens to drag Art back into a past from which he has struggled to escape. Meanwhile, Claire is intrigued by its mysteries but so involved in listening and observing, so wary of causing trouble to those around her, that she fails to speak up when she starts seeing a 12-year-old girl appear and disappear in perplexing ways.
Park lets the story build, busy but never hurried, knowing when a long, static shot will work in his favour, knowing when to pull the rug from under us. Old fashioned ghost story devices come back to life in his hands. By keeping the focus on character, he ensures that viewers will invest – that they will be unable to resist, even if they know what’s coming. This is a superb piece of horror cinema and should not be missed.
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