Kelvin Tong’s The Offering is so generic and convoluted it can’t even seem to make sense of itself. This uncertainty is particularly evident when a supporting character hilariously informs the protagonist, Jamie Waters (Elizabeth Rice), of an expository detail that’s already been recently established, essentially saying, “I let your sister borrow my family’s haunted house to ease their transition over from Singapore to America.” Tong spends the entire film’s running time spinning in such redundant circles, teasing a mystery that never comes together with the cathartic “aha!” moment that one expects from a competent supernatural thriller. For all the scattered, theoretically foreboding references to the Tower of Babel, Huntington’s disease, and binary code, The Offering is just another dull exorcism movie, complete with steals from The Exorcist and, bafflingly, The Happening.
Jamie is a hotshot criminal journalist. We know this because a doctor speculates to her, in the first scene, that chasing criminals must be wearing her down; and, in case we miss this nakedly audience-orienting beat, there’s a close-up just a few moments later of one of the walls in Jamie’s apartment, which is adorned with what appears to be a participation certificate for journalism. (It’s at this point that you may lose all hope for the film, steeling yourself for the long, literal-minded journey ahead.) Jamie’s sister has died, apparently by her own hand, as she accidentally recorded her death on her laptop, affording us the weirdly ludicrous sight of a woman struggling to suffocate herself with a plastic bag. The tragedy leads Jamie to her sister’s ex-husband, Sam (Matthew Settle), and their daughter, Katie (Adina Herz), who’s possibly being groomed as the next victim of a supernatural house party.
Jamie’s investigation of her sister’s death begets all the usual possession-movie hugger-mugger, including the breathless ranting of priests and testimonials from the family of other victims. Tong occasionally toys with introducing a haunted-technology gimmick that’s lifted out of Ringu and One Missed Call, among many others, but loses interest. Mostly, there are endless scenes of characters wandering dark corridors, waiting for a boogeyman to jump out at them. Tong litters these encounters with dolls, mirrors, and, more arbitrarily, with a deep-sea diving suit and a telescope. There isn’t a single surprising or even mildly diverting scene in The Offering, and the film’s ineptitude, its inability to ever distract us from the fact that we’re watching actors poorly perform grade-Z material, inspires retrospective gratitude for the empty yet slick craftsmanship of someone like James Wan.