Offseason, written and directed by Mickey Keating (Darling, Pod), tells the story of a woman named Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue). She receives a strange letter from the cemetery caretaker where her mother is buried stating the grave has been vandalized and asking Marie to come at once. The island where Marie’s mother is from and where she was buried is quite remote, only being accessible by a bridge or by boat. When Marie and her boyfriend arrive, they learn the island is closing soon for the offseason and the bridge will be closed. They rush to the cemetery to complete their business and leave before the bridge closes, but soon realize this island is full of dark secrets and it has no intention of letting Marie go.
Taking inspiration from childhood family trips in Florida, Keating has crafted his own Lovecraftian slow-burn filled with creepy atmosphere and suspense. Offseason feels a bit like a blend of John Carpenter’s The Fog and Dagon. There is a constant sense of dread as the small, desolate island is encompassed in fog and mist after the lasts tourists of the season leave. Then, as Marie learns more of the twisted secrets her mother kept from her about this island, the tension builds right up until the final moments. Keating is quite skilled at telling a haunting horror story that examines difficult topics such as grief and inherited familial trauma. These aspects are really the driving force behind our protagonist, leading her to her fate. It makes for a film that is simultaneously frightening and moving.
Another interesting aspect of the film is that it toys with what defines both Heaven and Hell. From the perspective of some people, the island is Heaven. It’s a beautiful oasis and the residents who get to live there year-round are so lucky. Yet, from another point of view, the residents are trapped in Hell on Earth. Whether you are a permanent resident of the island or someone from the outside looking in, everyone sees the island and its secrets in a different light. My one wish is that these themes of grief, inherited trauma, and Heaven vs Hell had been explored more deeply.
Aside from having an intriguing tale of suspense, Offseason also has many familiar indie-horror actors that deliver stellar performances. Jocelin Donahue (Doctor Sleep, The House of the Devil) plays Marie. Donahue proves time and time again that she is a wonderful performer. In her portrayal of Marie, Donahue especially excels at conveying the character’s guilt at not doing more to carry out her mother’s dying wish, which is what ultimately compels her to return to the island in an attempt to do the right thing. Joe Swanberg (V/H/S, You’re Next) plays Marie’s boyfriend, George. George acts as the skeptic who keeps Marie grounded to reality, that is until things really go from bad to worse. Swanberg is great at seeming both sassy and endearing, which works quite well for this character. Other fantastic performances from familiar faces come from Richard Break (31, Doom), Melora Walters (Venom, The Pale Door), and Jeremy Gardner (The Battery, After Midnight).
Keating wisely chose to keep the effects to a minimum while still creating haunting imagery. Throughout Offseason, the use of fog not only adds to the eerie ambiance of the island, but it also creates more terror. Who knows what could be lurking just beyond sight. Between the fog and wonderful use of light and shadow, the audience never gets to see the full picture. Instead, we only see what Keating wants us to see when he wants us to see it. This method not only makes the island itself seem to be a character of its own in the film, but it also makes for some horrifying moments. There is really only one scene in Offseason that utilizes more grand practical effects. While this was likely in part due to budget, it makes that singular moment even more terrifying. It’s a moment that shows both the characters and the audience just how dire things can get and how quickly the tides can change.
Offseason is a dark, atmospheric examination of the trauma we inherit and the horrors of grief. Keating uses Lovecraftian plot elements, eerie ambiance, and haunting imagery to emphasize his themes. The end result is a character-driven tale of suspense that will send chills down your spine. While I do wish some of the deeper themes had been explored a bit more in-depth, the visuals are gorgeous, the performances are fantastic, and the plot is both familiar and unique. Be sure to check out Offseason and decide for yourself if this little remote island is a slice of Heaven or Hell on Earth.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10