It’s not so easy to run away from your heritage. The ancient myths and stories linger, ever eager to claw their way to the surface. The Offering is a horror movie that capitalizes on demonic tales from the Torah, as a man raised in a deeply religious Jewish household in Brooklyn returns home and must face off against a dark force that has laid claim to his family. It wins points for atmosphere, building its narrative within the bowels of a spectacularly eerie haunted house that feels weighted down with pain and loss. But it suffers from pacing issues, spending too much time malingering before getting to the actual scares, which come late in the film and don’t pack enough of a punch.
Our hero, Art (Nick Blood), has brought his pregnant wife home to his estranged father’s house in Brooklyn. He’s clearly abandoned his conservative religious upbringing, a move that caused strife between the father and son, but it seems now that everyone is prepared to let bygones be bygones. Or rather, the father is ready to move forward – the son has motives that are more selfish. Amid financial trouble, he finds that the only way to dig himself out is to have his father sign over as collateral the funeral home he’s spent his life operating.
That is at least his initial intention – but being back in his childhood home makes the question he has to ask much more difficult than he anticipated. Before too long, however, it becomes apparent that this personal financial crisis is the least of his problems. In helping his father in his mortuary duties, perhaps as an attempt to reconnect with the old man and show that he hasn’t entirely lost touch with his roots, perhaps simply as an opportunity to butter him up before asking for a massive favor, he inadvertently unleashes an ancient demon from Jewish mythology that sets its sights on claiming his unborn child.
The biggest problem in The Offering is that it gets bogged down in this secondary storyline and lets it run on for far too long. We spend the majority of the film focused primarily on family drama, and not even the family drama that is the most interesting – the rekindling of a relationship between these two men – but of a cheap financial betrayal that lessens our emotional attachment to all involved. None of the characters are particularly well developed, and it’s difficult to become emotionally attached to them because they’re all very surface-level. There is a cool horror story trapped somewhere in this film, one that expands the role of the tragically underused Brooklyn demon expert who only gets a few scenes to offer up exposition before being unceremoniously dispatched.
It wants to use Jewish mythology as a horror device but doesn’t spend much time delving into the cultural identity that would make a story like this so unique. Furthermore, it spends a tremendous amount of time getting to the actual horror part of the horror story. Likely for budgetary reasons, the spookiness factor doesn’t really come into play until the tail end of the film. This isn’t always a problem – there are plenty of horror movies that come alive in the final third – but there’s no slow, agonizing build-up of tension that makes the scary moments really pop, and the ultimate payoff is so short that it doesn’t quite justify everything that came before it.
The one thing that The Offering has in its favor is a true sense of atmosphere. The Brooklyn mortuary is perfectly designed as the ultimate haunted house, with the potential for frights lurking around every corner. The air is heavy with not just death, which is such a regular guest at this funeral home that it no longer seems out of the ordinary, but memory and ritual. Art’s entire childhood took place within these four walls, following strict interpretations of religion that must have felt stifling, considering how eagerly he detached himself from every part of that life. This space is filled with history – both personal and religious – and it is haunted in so many different ways.
Somehow, it almost feels like The Offering would have been on firmer ground if it had committed itself to that type of horror, one that luxuriates in dread and moodiness rather than jump scares. The film is at its strongest when we are waiting for something horrifying to appear, and when it actually does, it struggles to live up to our expectations. The Offering has plenty of potential and a perfectly serviceable concept, but it isn’t quite capable of converting those into a coherent horror film.