Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Offering: Biblical Horror in Singapore

If you know your google doodles, you know this Saturday was Claude Shannon’s birthday. Little did he know, his work on binary value systems could raise the Tower of Babel and unleash the demon Leviathan. Elements of Biblical evil and the digital age, as well as some of our favorite Singaporean stars elevate Kelvin Tong’s American-funded Singaporean-produced horror film, The Offering (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Chicago muckraker Jamie Waters has come to Singapore to tend to her sister’s affairs after she committed suicide. Waters is naturally suspicious, questioning why Anna would end things now after dealing with her Huntington’s Disease for some many years, but it is hard to argue with the video recorded on her laptop. However, Waters soon discovers her sister’s death fits a pattern of suicides committed by high-functioning terminal cases, all of whom seemed to expect to be reincarnated.

Anna Waters’ environment clearly did not help either. She had been staying with her similarly afflicted young daughter in her estranged husband’s formerly mothballed family home. It is safe to say this waterfront property has some history behind it. Somehow, the old cultist who performed his rituals there might be connected to the binary-based internet virus apparently triggering the suicides. When the local Catholic church’s webmaster starts investigating with Father De Silva, a guilt-ridden exorcist from Bali, they uncover strange references to the Tower of Babel and Leviathan.

For a horror movie to really get under our skin, it has to entail, serious, metaphysical evil. To fight that kind of darkness, you need a priest pouring over ancient demonology tomes late at night. Happily, we have that here. In fact, Adrian Pang and Colin Borgonon inspire a good deal of confidence as Father Tan and Father De Silva. You can see the film noticeably perk up when Tong cuts to them.

Elizabeth Rice also makes a reasonably forceful genre protagonist when she is pursuing her own investigations. However, her family drama with niece Katie and bro-in-law Sam gets predictably tiresome. The latter is the worst kind of horror movie kid. Bizarrely, Tong also largely wastes Jaymee Ong in the pedestrian role of family friend Marjorie Tan, who is mostly called upon to babysit Katie. At least Pamelyn Chee (from Serangoon Road) gets a bit more to do as May Wong, the possible “Patient Zero” of the suicide epidemic.

Regardless, Tong understands how to creep out the inner Catholic in us all. The connections he draws between the Tower of Babel and binary (the new “One Language”) feel unsettlingly convincing in the moment and he exploits the old dark house setting quite efficiently. The execution is a little messy at times, but he deserves credit for originality. Recommended for old school demonic horror fans, The Offering opens tomorrow (5/6) in New York, at the Cinema Village.