For reasons that are most likely psychological in nature, people tend to talk to the screen when they watch action, suspense, or horror films. Comments like “don’t go in there,” “kick his ass,” and “you stupid array of expletives” are among the more popular ones. Despite the viewer’s understanding that no amount of shouting will affect the outcome of a scene, he still believes that if he pleads with the big-breasted beauty one more time, she won’t go in there and subsequently die a horrible death. Another type of audience reaction occurs with less frequency, but operates on much the same principles. Occasionally, when a film seems so promising or “would be a lot better if,” the viewer ends up wanting and willing the film to progress a certain way. Such is the case with Antonio Sarmiento’s directorial debut “The Offering.”
The film literally follows the events that take place one day as an unshaven man (Edward Lowe) stumbles around town and a five-dollar bill goes from one set of sticky fingers to the next. The viewer quickly learns that the unshaven man’s name is Jonathan and he once had a wife and daughter, both of whom died in a house fire one night. Jonathan feels responsible for their deaths because he was out gambling while they perished. Penniless and utterly devastated, he wanders the streets of his city unable to escape the guilt.
Conceptually speaking, the film has much potential to be both enlightening and entertaining. Whether or not it happens naturally depends on execution. As Sarmiento’s film begins, continues, and then comes to an end, I find myself under the impression that the film will get better either stylistically or narratively. In fact, when the five-dollar bill starts on its little journey, going from pocket to pocket, and Jonathan is swept along the same path, I wanted it to become like Pay It Forward (Mimi Leder, 2000), except that it would be “steal it forward.” Though I was perfectly cognizant of the fact that the film would not really change no matter how much I wished and willed, in the back of my head, I still believed that it could happen. No such luck.
Independent cinema is comprised of an entire range of films. On the one hand, there’s the movie that your neighbor Roberto probably made when he videotaped his friends doing stupid human tricks. On the other hand, there are films that Steve Buscemi might’ve done on the side. The plot, production values, camerawork, editing, dialogue, and acting are all affected by the degree of experience, talent, and skills of not only the director, but his cast and crew as well. “The Offering” is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. While the proximal relationship between Jonathan and the five-dollar bill is in and of itself intriguing, there are certain scenes that make it quite clear that this film is Sarmiento’s first. The lighting is sometimes amateurish and the acting stiff. Moreover, the director doesn’t allow the viewer to develop any sort of empathy for Jonathan, which is vital if his lamentations are to resonate within the viewer. I tried to will the film to reach its potential for greatness, but to no avail.
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