Movie Review: The “Other” version of “J-Horror” features in “The Offering”

What, again with the incantations, the pentagrams, the “protective circle” of ashes?

Another ancient text turns to flames when you say the wrong thing?

Another horned demon skittering up the walls? Oy!

“The Offering” is a New York Jewish trip through horror tropes, an everything-but-real-frights thriller about this “taker of children” demon who comes after a pregnant woman who has joined her husband for a visit with her Ultra Orthodox father-in-law, who has been estranged from his son because the lad married a “shiksa.”

Then again, maybe Art (Nick Blood) was just trying to burn that bridge so that he wouldn’t be trapped in that ancient Brooklyn brownstone, in that family, in that tradition-obsessed culture and in his father’s business.

Father Saul (the superb character actor Allan Corduner) is a mortician, catering to the specific requirements of his faith and those who share it. Steady work and lucrative it may be. But it ain’t for everybody.

Art’s a real estate broker who needs something from his father. Wife Clara (Emily Wiseman) doesn’t know about that, and just seems relieved to have this rapprochement with her father-in-law.

Saul’s toothpick-chewing, judgmental assistant Hemish (Paul Kaye) sees through the son. But when father and his assistant decide to stick Art with handling a fresh corpse that’s come in, their “Don’t mess up,” seems, at the very least, disrespectful, even if Art used to do this work before leaving home.

Considering all that follows, it’s a big mistake on a lot of levels. An elderly, widowed scholar (Anton Trendafilov) died under supernatural circumstances. We know this from the film’s opening scene. Saul, Heimish and especially hapless Art have no idea. That knife the guy supposedly stuck in his own chest? That blue pendant around his neck? They have significance that Art has no clue about.

Uh. Oh.

The effects are good, if nothing we haven’t seen scores of times before. The acting is competent, if unaffecting, and that’s more a product of direction.

The plot’s confusing “taker of children” features allusions to missing kids and a girl demon, but seems thinly developed and sloppy.

What’s unusual and fascinating about “The Offering” in this Ultra Orthodox setting, with its exotic terminology, “ancient” lore and promise of something resembling a Jewish exorcism. I’m not sure how much of this is built on the foundations of real tradition and how much is screenplay invention, but there are indicators that this could work and the thrills could “play.”

Yes, the characters are horror tropes — consulting the “expert” on these things, a scholar whose real job is in the diamond district, the pregnant prey — as are the situations and frights. But setting them in a funeral home, in the midst of mourning (Cover that mirror or else!) is a novelty.

The bar for this version of “J-Horror” is high (“The Vigil,” “The Possession”), but not so high that “The Offering” couldn’t have managed something fresh and more interesting and at least more sensible than this.

The movie never establishes the love and devotion of the marriage, the ache of loss or the terror of Clara facing an unknown threat in an alien community that hasn’t wholly accepted her.

This “Offering” climaxes with a half-shrugged, half-shouted “Yeah, AND?”

Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Nick Blood, Emily Wiseman, Paul Kaye and Allan Corduner

Credits: Directed by Oliver Park, scripted by Hank Hoffman. A Decal release.

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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