Offseason - New Release Review
Director: Mickey Keating
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Richard Brake, Melora Walters
Written by: Mickey Keating
Produced by: Maurice Fadida, Eric B. Fleischman
Cinematography by: Mac Fisken
Original Score by: Shayfer James
After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare.
An outsider arriving to a small, tight knit community asking questions and getting nothing in return except resentment and contempt, isn't exactly anything new in the horror genre. In fact it's an extremely common plot device that has been applied in many horror films over the years to varied results. 'Offseason' isn't 'The Wicker Man' though I'm sure writer/director Mickey Keating might hope some day that his film is fondly remembered in the same manner (it won't be). The film actually shares more in common with Konami's video game 'Silent Hill' and even ABC's highly successful television show 'Lost'.
'Offseason' unfortunately doesn't have the same effect as either of those two mammoth creations mentioned above and despite some impressive imagery and a few fun spooky scenes, the film just remains pretty flat the whole way through.
Marie (Jocelin Donahue) is summoned to an isolated island town to tend to her mother's grave, which has been badly damaged. She's accompanied by her ex-boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) and shortly after arriving they quickly realise that this town (which is only accessible via a large draw bridge) is an extremely hostile place and not somewhere that they have any intention of staying longer than they absolutely need to. Things seem off straight away when they are warned by the bridge attendant that nobody is allowed in or out except the locals, to which they vehemently question. Eventually they are allowed through but a storm is brewing, both literally and figuratively, and they have no idea what is about to happen to them. When they arrive at the cemetery to attend to the damaged tombstone there is nobody to speak to so both Marie and George go off roaming in search of the cemetery caretaker. This is when the weird shit starts happening.
It's an enticing premise and even though it's been done before in some shape or form there's evidence to suggest that a decent horror film exists within this script. It definitely could've benefitted with being fleshed out more, specifically the characters. One of the discernible negatives about the film is how it just jumps straight in without ever really attempting to build any tension early on.
The film opens with nostalgic Super 8 footage of beach-goers and holiday makers accompanied by Camille Saint-Saëns playful 'Le Carnaval des Animaux' then quickly cuts to a gloomy, modern day island coastline. Cold, windy and unwelcoming. We are then presented with a lovely monologue from Ava Aldrich, Marie's mother (Melora Walters) explaining that she can never run away from her nightmares. Really intriguing opening scene and superbly delivered. However by the 16 minute mark we already get our first glimpse of something supernatural in the form of "nosey corpses" looking on as Marie wanders around the wooded area of the isolated island. Everything happens way too quickly and Marie doesn't even seem that bothered with what she's just witnessed. I would have much rather been given an extra 10 minutes with these characters and let the events slowly unfold so that an atmosphere could be built up and the tension be allowed to creep in naturally. There is some gorgeous shots here though but sometimes it's better to let a moment simmer. Keating could've done so much more in the first 20 minutes to help initiate dread and anxiety and all that good stuff. Richard Brake certainly deserved a little more screen time as the bridge attendant and his scene felt like the perfect opportunity to create genuine discomfort and apprehension. He does turn up later on and gives his usual creepy performance.
The 'Silent Hill' comparisons appear almost straight away as Marie meanders around the desolate town filled with closed stores and empty streets and surrounded at all times by a thick, encroaching fog. We're gifted with some really beautiful (and creepy) shots of the town. As the story unfolds and it becomes apparent that this town is haunted by something otherworldly, Marie slowly finds out more about her Mother and herself too and she also realises that she can't escape the island.
Jocelin Donahue is pretty good though she isn't handed any favours by the script, which is full of clunky and repetitive dialogue. Clearly the spoken word isn't Mickey Keating's forte and actually there might've been more horror and fear and panic and terror squeezed out of this film had the dialogue been shredded down to the bare minimum. Donahue holds it together well enough but there are some scenes that required much more reactive responses and as viewers, if the lead star is a bit blasé about it all then why should we feel differently..?
'Offseason' isn't bad, it's just a bit forgettable. I haven't seen any of Keating previous films but sadly I really do think this would work much better in another directors hands.
- Gavin Logan
'Offseason' is available to stream on Shudder from June 10th