The Faith of Anna Waters / The Offering (dir. Kelvin Tong, 2016) – Journalist Jamie Waters investigates the sudden death of her sister and uncovers a mysterious streak of suicides in Singapore.
Confined to the tropes of the exorcism subgenre, The Faith of Anna Waters fails to outdistance its apparent influences.
In 2005, Singaporean director Kelvin Tong made his horror debut. Inspired by Asian cultural observances during the Hungry Ghost Month, The Maid delivered the scares and became a box office success. His gritty supernatural-crime drama Rule Number One continued the upward streak, building much anticipation towards his first Hollywood entry.
The Faith of Anna Waters sees American journalist Jamie Waters (Elizabeth Rice) arrive in Singapore to investigate the mysterious suicide of her sister Anna (Rayann Condy). When her niece Katie (Adina Herz) insists that Anna will return in seven days, Jamie unhesitatingly turns her suspicion to the occult.
Her persistent delve uncovers similar deaths in the city, where she crosses paths with Catholic priests James De Silva (Colin Borgonon) and Matthew Tan (Adrian Pang). The religious pair believes that the end-of-day omens in cyber-attacks on local churches may hold the answers.
Demonic entities disappointingly work by the numbers, introducing an uninspired plot done to death. In an unpropitious move, Kelvin Tong has lent heavier prominence to tired Western clichés over his usual Asian influences, which may have given familiar phantoms a more distinctive touch.
Lost in faint echoes of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Stuart Rosenberg’s The Amityville Horror, the movie (intentionally or otherwise) replicates scenes from masterful inspirations, sans impact. Leaden acting contributes to the list of cinema sins. The grisliest of deaths and ghastly of ghosts fail to evoke terror – or any emotions for that matter – from a visibly listless cast.
An inkling of underlying potential peers through a sin-built Tower of Babel and the brief appearance of Hellmouth. But the ideas prove wistfully embryonic and ultimately futile. Intermittent snuff movies and closet demons end up ticking the boxes of essential haunted house mischief.
Faith does take a commendable risk to break the monotony, though embracing modern technology turns out ill-advised. Ouija for iPad and web vandalism come off as dated as they sound. When scrambled letters form in the mirror’s mist, the inanity of anagram-solving without Google amuses. (For entertaining Internet-inspired schlock, see: Feardotcom.)
With repetitive jump scares and the absence of unsettling harmonics, the tedious march continues. The outcome, heavy with religious overtones, is predictably eventual. An unsatisfying denouement finally calls upon perfunctory exorcism rites.
Unable to escape the restrictive expectations of the exorcism subgenre, The Faith of Anna Waters joins the ranks of The Devil Inside and Deliver Us From Evil, each a poorer imitation than the last. It almost seems as if an unrepentant worship of profit figures has sent filmmakers scouring for proven “hits”, which we must protest for the love of horror.