In ‘The Offering,’ the latest Yiddish-inflected horror movie, a Jewish spirit haunts Hasidic Brooklyn

Dive into the history of Jewish horror

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Claire (played by Emily Wiseman) meets her father-in-law Saul (played by Allan Corduner) for the first time before the family is beset by a demon in The Offering.

Plenty of modern horror movies feature demons and jump-scares, but not many explore Jewish funerary customs, kabbalistic mysticism, and a deep dive into Hasidic culture.

The Offering-- a horror film released on Friday, January 13 in theaters and on streaming platforms--does just that, exploring an ancient demon that spooks a Hasidic enclave of Brooklyn. In the film, a young man named Art (played by Nick Blood) brings Claire, his non-Jewish pregnant wife (played by Emily Wiseman) home to meet Saul, his long-estranged Hasidic father--and a funeral director. Claire fights to protect her unborn baby from Abyzou, an ancient demon from Jewish folklore that causes miscarriages and infant mortality, while battling to find her place in a world she knows little about.

Director Oliver Park, while not Jewish, has a deep appreciation for the Jewish roots of the horror genre that informed his work on the film, which marks his feature directorial debut. The movie is "continuing a tradition that has been around for more than 100 years," in terms of Jewish horror, he said, adding, "It was a privilege to be part of such a long-standing tradition of horror." He continued that he had been inspired by the early 20th century horror film The Golem, which he called "one of the first and most influential religious horror films."  

For Wiseman, also not Jewish, the film's Jewish elements were as unfamiliar to her as they were to her character. On set in Bulgaria in 2021--which stood in for Brooklyn during a nasty stage of the pandemic--she asked her castmates about the meaning behind Jewish mourning rituals, such as covering mirrors during shiva .

"The education and research that continued on set mirrored my character Claire coming into this foreign environment," said Wiseman. She said she walked away from filming with a powerful impression of Judaism. From her first read of the script, she was drawn to a line said by Saul (played by Allan Corduner) during the movie: "The home is the heart," he said. "Open home, open heart."

The Jewish-themed horror film genre has boomed in the last decade. The Vigil , from 2020, took as its subject matter shemira , or the Jewish ritual of watching over a dead body. The Unborn was a dybbuk-themed horror movie that came out in 2009--featuring Gary Oldman as a rabbi--and in 2021, a movie called Dybbuk was made in India, in Hindi. That was itself a remake of a 2017 film called Ezra , which was made in Malayalam, an Indian language, and involved an Indian Jewish protagonist.

"I'm so excited that in the last 30 or so years, they've slowly trickled back through and we're seeing more and more of them now," Park said of Jewish-themed horror movies. "So, I'm really hoping that there are many more terrifying and disturbing tales that are inspired richly by Jewish folklore."

"The Offering," which premiered at festivals last year, comes from Millennium Films.

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