The Offer (2017)

So far, Cult Screenings UK Ltd have specialised in genre film documentaries. K. John McDonagh’s Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (2015), Chris Griffiths’ The First Lecktor: An Interview With Brian Cox (2016), You’re So Cool, Brewster! the Story of Fright Night (2016) and RoboDoc: The Creation of Robocop (2017) are all the kind of feature-length paratexts typically found as extras on DVD releases – but The Offer represents the company’s first entry in what looks set to be a series of mid-length horror fictions under the label ‘Dark Ditties Presents’.

Co-directed by Griffiths and Gary Smart, The Offer tells the story of seven strangers, apparently selected at random and invited to compete with each other in a game to determine which of them will inherit a legacy of £10 million left by the late Maximilian Francis Benoit (Kenneth Cranham). Yet as Benoit addresses them on a video supposedly filmed before his death, their greed blinds them to the suspicious nature of the set-up, until the game begins, and they realise too late that they are trapped together in a room of Benoit’s dark old house, with each failure to ascribe to one another correctly one of the seven deadly sins resulting in a violent death. Young, fresh-faced Gabbie (Gemma Gordon) becomes our focus as she steps into this malicious  world – although neither she nor anyone else is entirely innocent.

When sarcastic Canadian Rose (Barbie Wilde), wealthy banker Jonathan (Simon Bamford), gay actor Sebastian (Nicholas Vince), alcoholic car salesman Michael (Bruce Jones), depressive Derek (Stanley Rawlings) and homophobic Daniel (Darnell Spence) meet across a table covered in food and drink, they embody a collection of stereotypes whose guts will eventually be exposed along with their secrets, as they must race against the clock not just for monetary reward but for pure survival, in a game of elimination whose rules – and adjudications – seem entirely arbitrary.

The result is a camp, gory, mean-spirited British romp – a sort of Miss Marples chamber piece with added blood and viscera. The Offer knowingly reunites for its own infernal visions many of the players from the Hellraiser franchise (Cranham, Wilde, Bamford, Vince, and Oliver Smith as the Butler), along the way referencing the sinful punishments of Seven (1995), the posthumous play of Saw (2004), the voyeuristic gambling of My Little Eye (2002) and 31 (2016), the suited and masked partygoers of The Shining (1980), the line ‘clever girl’ from Jurassic Park (1993), and even the Gimp from Pulp Fiction (1994). While it always remains broader than it is deep, The Offer piles up the bodies thick and fast and, at a mere 48 minutes, avoids outstaying its welcome – even as its trickster host prove less than hospitable.

© Anton Bitel