Exorcisms, séances, scurrying phantoms, slamming doors, blood rituals, possessed children, upside-down crosses — The Offering leaves few horror devices unused.
In writer-director Kelvin Tong’s haphazard tale, Chicago journalist Jamie (Elizabeth Rice) travels to Singapore after the suicide of her sister, who suffered from a fatal disease also afflicting her daughter Anna (Rayann Condy). There Jamie uncovers a convoluted plot involving all of the above, plus devilish anagrams, ghostly little boys, satanic manuals for sacrificial rites, and two priests (one questioning his faith, the other a computer-loving true believer) convinced that some unholy force (an aquatic demon!) is attempting to rebuild the Tower of Babel — via the internet.
Jamie’s lack of faith also factors into the all-over-the-place story, which races about with reckless abandon, skimming past more than a few key plot developments along the way. Tong’s direction is far more assured, delivering a host of sinister supernatural sights — a deep-sea diving suit that mysteriously crumples to the floor; Anna getting dragged backward on her heels by an invisible assailant — that are married to surprisingly effective jolt-scares.
Too bad they’re not enough to make up for the overarching derivativeness, as The Offering hews so closely to convention that the best it can come up with for a finale is borrowing the most famous head-rotating gag in horror history.
Written and directed by Kelvin Tong
Opens May 6, Cinema Village
Available on demand