Overview: After the apparent suicide of her sister, a reporter travels to Singapore to care for her family and discovers a demon’s plot to gain power through technology. Momentum Pictures; 2016; 102 minutes.
A Pratfall: There’s a scene early in The Offering in which Jamie Waters (Elizabeth Rice) consults doctors about the passing of her sister. She is told that there is evidence that suggests the death was a suicide. Jamie rejects this possibility, citing her sister’s spiritedness. So the doctors rebuttal with a reference to a painful genetic condition that haunted Anna (Rayann Condor), but Jamie is insistent on her sister’s strength and perseverance. A solid script would end here, perhaps with a nod from the doctors or a hint of broken faith on the face of Jamie, but Writer-Director Kelvin Tong takes three comically giant steps forward. They explain that Anna “left her webcam on accidentally” and her suicide was caught on video on her computer. They present the computer to Jamie. They press play on the video.
In a Nutshell: It’s not just the lack of believability that makes this exchange disruptive, it’s the figurative stretch marks exposed within the script. Stories shouldn’t reach that far. But, what follows is a clip of video that is bothersome. It’s horrific. And had the story found it in a more natural sense, it would stand as an example of really good horror filmmaking. This is The Offering in a nutshell, a film that stumbles and crawls in and out of nightmarish imagery and short stretches of thematic strength. Later, a hauntingly arranged cremation scene sees Anna’s daughter Katie (Adina Herz) slapping a window reflecting the furnace, but any emotional reaction is interrupted by Jamie’s need to articulate her understood atheism. There’s a sense that Tong lacks faith in his visual storytelling, or that he doesn’t understand that the visuals can be their own language, and so, that language is always stumbling over more obvious, unnecessary words.
An Imbalancing Act: It’s also worth noting that The Offering borrows the cryptically delivered ticking clock of fatalism directly from The Ring, emulates the spiritual healing through demonic horror of The Exorcist, and investigates the supernatural through elements of technology by way of Pulse. At times, again, each of these elements are used to great effect within its own boundaries, but The Offering’s scariest and most distinguished elements are those of its own invention (a doll bouncing on a trampoline, a green light exploding through a window) which only heightens the viewing frustration.
Overall: The Offering is a bit clumsy but showcases enough promise for the viewer to believe that Kelvin Tong is a dose of self-confidence and a dash of reserve away from making a really good horror film.
Featured Image: Momentum Pictures