Written and directed by Mickey Keating.
Starring Joe Swanberg, Jocelin Donahue, Melora Walters, Richard Brake, and Jeremy Gardner.
After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare.
Are there any films more frustrating to watch – let alone review – than superbly shot, terrifically acted ones without a worthy script to back it up? Offseason, the new film from talented filmmaker Mickey Keating (Darling, Carnage Park), is teeming with atmosphere and conviction, albeit in the service of a wildly over-familiar, ultimately unpersuasive supernatural horror narrative.
Marie (Jocelin Donahue) receives a letter notifying her that her mother Ava’s (Melora Walters) grave has been vandalised, prompting her and her friend George (Joe Swanberg) to head out to the burial site in the sleepy tourist island town of Lone Palm Beach to investigate.
The pair arrive there on the eve of the off-season, the island’s bridge to the mainland due to be raised the very next day, in turn cutting the town off from the rest of the world. With the clock ticking before they’re stranded there for months, Marie hopes to uncover the source of the vandalism and put her mother to rest once and for all.
Keating deserves sure credit for establishing an ice-cold mood within mere minutes of the film’s opening; a full-bodied collision of his well-trained eye for stark detail, the committed performances of his cast, and relatively sparse deployment of dialogue.
From those first few moments that Marie and George set foot on the island, it feels unsettlingly alien, the streets eerily empty enough that one might assume the film was cobbled together during the COVID-19 pandemic, though Keating was actually able to wrap weeks before the pandemic ground the world to a halt.
As far as intent goes, Offseason is most pointedly a commentary on the nature of tourism – a relatively thin and obvious one, but effective enough in capturing the ebb and flow of life and death in tourist towns reliant on seasonal income. Keating grasps at both the imprints people leave on places and the attachment to places they might feel, all of which takes on an unexpected relevance given present global circumstances.
But after an extremely promising first act, it ends up settling for more generically spooky shenanigans; an island rife with an ambiguous supernatural force, ghosts of the past bubbling up to the surface, and a protagonist with seemingly no way to escape her predicament. It all feels very Silent Hill, honestly, and the moments where Marie runs down a foggy, abandoned street so lucidly evoke the iconography of the game as to seem quite intentional.
Yet the nerve-wracking survival horror of that franchise quickly evaporates here, Keating leaning on fairly played-out supernatural goings-on which feel less-than-deserving of the clear effort that has been made to put this movie together.
Despite the seemingly snappy 83-minute runtime, the flabby middle portion rapidly vents interest, Marie’s slow stumbles through the darkness suggesting Keating is basically playing for time to pad the story out to feature length. Even the third-act shift in a more gonzo direction is a mixed bag of goofy visual effects, ahead of an ending that lands as incredibly pat, if not also totally predictable.
But in its every living moment Offseason is energised by a laudable cast who do their level best to make the middling material sing. Genre vet Jocelin Donahue makes Marie effortlessly sympathetic, and Keating clearly knows he’s got gold here, taking every errant opportunity to linger on the subtleties of her pained facial contortions, often in close-up.
Marie’s increasing exasperation with her situation and the seeming lack of answers is convincingly felt, and she deserves particular credit for having to power so much of the film basically solo, given that Swanberg, as entertainingly aloof as ever, spends a large chunk of the mid-section off-screen.
There are also a few worthwhile supporting roles to savour; the brilliant Melora Walters acts her heart out like she’s gunning for an Oscar as Marie’s mother Ava, damn-near stealing the entire movie away with her brief flashback monologues as a woman frayed at the seams. The horror genre’s go-to-creep Richard Brake also gets a few beefy minutes of screen time as a sinister local; a part he was clearly born to play, and he evidently relishes chewing his way through the foreboding dialogue.
Keating’s aesthetic control is also exemplary, defined by deliberate camera movements which belie the pic’s short runtime; Valerie Krulfeifer’s motivated editing combines with Mac Fisken’s gorgeous lensing to keep the frame a feast for the eyes at almost all times.
Offseason is certainly more captivating for being visually beautiful and exceptionally acted, but it’s also tough not to wish that all this talent were put towards a more adventurous tale of haunting and isolation. It is so thoroughly gushing with atmosphere and so infuriatingly at the mercy of a boilerplate script that doesn’t even begin to give its characters a compelling story to hang on.
A visually stunning calling card for director Mickey Keating and his crackerjack cast though it is, Offseason’s generic, even inert horror dramatics fail to make the most of the clear skill and talent on display.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.