Jewish horror, mysticism, folklore and the silver screen have intersected since the earliest days of cinema. Released in 1915, The Golem, was a silent German film from writer/director Paul Wegener, who went on to remake it as the now-classic The Golem: How He Came Into The World in 1920. I was lucky enough to see it with live music accompaniment a few years ago. The legend of the Golem is believed to have originated in 16th Century Prague and has since inspired other movies and well as numerous remakes. The Dybbuk, Or Between Two Worlds, is also part of the early foundation of Jewish bumps in the night, demons and possession in movies – it was an early 20th Century Russian play written by S. Ansky that he translated into Yiddish, before being made into a film in 1937 by Michael Waszyńsk. The Dybbuk has since been adapted into a variety of art forms including an opera and a ballet by Jerome Robbins. More recently, Jewish themes have turned up in the horror movies The Unborn and The Vigil.
Influenced by those early forays, British director Oliver Park brings the big, bad spirits into the 21st century in his debut, The Offering. Writer Hank Hoffman, who is Jewish (and adds real life experience from his days as a shomer at a Jewish morgue in Toronto) sets the stories in a Hasidic enclave in Brooklyn (a wintry Bulgaria subbing in). The movie centers around a missing Jewish girl, an elderly man, Yosille, (Anton Trendafilov) trying to bring back a loved one from the other side but releasing instead something really, really not good (a female spirit named Abyzou who feeds on children), and a prodigal son returning home to the religious father he’s estranged from and the life he once knew, now with a not Jewish, very pregnant English wife. These early scenes in the home provide a window into the Hassidic world, often presented as mysterious or with hostility. Here, free of stereotypes, they are suffused with warmth and especially in the morgue as the bodies are prepared, with respect and tenderness.
Played by the aptly named Nick Blood (Euphoria, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Arthur, in the real estate business, wants to reconcile, but also has ulterior motives for the reunion with his father, Saul (Allan Corduner –Topsy Turvy; Tár ). Given that he was raised in a funeral home run by Saul, it’s perhaps not surprising he has stayed away for quite some time. His wife Claire, (Emily Wiseman) is a photographer who has struggled to get pregnant so the reconciliation is even more meaningful.
Between the unnerving funeral home, jump scares and the skillful use of sound – even the whirring of a cassette tape suddenly reaching its end becomes menacing – Park, Hoffman and the effects team effectively create a sinister atmosphere. Certain people who are not big horror buffs needed to watch in the daytime with the volume turned down to avoid getting extra spooked.
That the movie is rich with the Yiddish language, Jewish writers and actors (actors Paul Kaye and Daniel Ben-Zenou are Jewish, as is producer Jonathan “Yoni” Yunger) and Jewish and mystical symbols adds to the authenticity of the Jewish experience portrayed. Incidentally, Millennium Films, which is releasing it, was founded by Israeli-American producer Avi Lerner. The Offering will be a chilling and welcome addition to the Jewish cannon for Jewish viewers and horror fans.
In theaters and available now via VOD