In Mickey Keating’s latest horror film, OFFSEASON, after receiving a mysterious letter, Marie travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare. Featuring a lush, tropical Florida location juxtaposed against a cold color palette that’s soaked in dread, OFFSEASON is a nightmarish film that will get under your skin and never let go.
For the SXSW World Premiere of the film, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to chat with Director Mickey Keating as well as actors Jocelin Donahue and Joe Swanberg about shooting the film in Florida, the struggles of working with fog, and more!
Thank you all so much for taking the time to talk to me today about OFFSEASON. To kick things off, can you talk a little bit about the genesis of OFFSEASON?
Mickey Keating: Yeah, of course! I grew up in Florida and when we would have an opportunity to drive to the beach we would do it all the time. So, when I was little, we would go to these little towns during winter when no one was around and you’d see these figures of people far off in the distance, walking the beach. I always thought that was really creepy. So, that’s kind of been living with me for a long time. In 2018, I really started to read a lot of Faulkner and a lot of Shirley Jackson, very spooky kind of stories like “The Summer People” or “A Rose for Emily” and that kind of all culminated into a little bit of what this kind of became. Those were more the jumping-off points more than anything else.
So then I wrote it and then me and Eric Fleischman, the producer who did Carnage Park, we wanted to do another film together. Then I begged Jocelin Donahue and Joe Swanberg to come be in the film and we all went down to Florida (laughs).
For you, Jocelin and Joe, can you talk about being a part of OFFSEASON and what attracted you to your roles?
Jocelin Donahue: There was no begging necessary because it was really such a pleasure to work with Mickey. When I got the script, the first thing that jumped out was the setting and this really specific, weird sense of place. Then learning that Mickey was from there and where the ideas came from, sitting down with him I knew it would be a good experience on set as well. And it really was, like he’s just got a great team, every department was amazing and really got to be creative and collaborative. And getting to work with Joe and all these actors that I really respect, it was really, really cool.
Joe Swanberg: Yeah, same here. I have known Jocelin for a long time and almost worked with Mickey years ago. So, when he called me, I was very excited and happily said yes right away. I was thrilled to get to go down and shoot in Florida. I had finished 8th grade near that area and so, I sort of knew what the location was going to be like. I hadn’t been there in a really long time and I thought it was a really magical and spooky place to shoot a movie. So, it was an easy yes for me and a really fun experience to make it.
This perfectly segways into my next question, which is about the location. It’s so atmospheric and cold, which I really loved. When it came to the town you shot in for OFFSEASON, did you rent out the entire town?
Mickey Keating: I hadn’t been to that town since I was young and so, I always had it in my mind that it was this little tiny town, but ever since it’s really become a pretty significant, much bigger beach town than I had imagined. What we realized pretty quickly was like, we shot in January so it was going to be kind of cold and there’s not going to be anyone around. But what we didn’t realize was that all the Canadians come down during that time (laughs). The producers worked with the town and basically blockaded off “parade routes” so that we could empty the whole area during the time. It wasn’t an easy shoot. It was either freezing or bugs were eating us alive. They say don’t work with kids and animals. I also throw fog into that equation because it was an absolute nightmare (laughs). I think, at the end of the day, we were able to do it all practically and it really paid off. They had not had another movie film there so we kind of showed up with our little ragtag group and ran all over town.
Jocelin and Joe, can you talk a little bit about the relationship between your two characters. Just like the atmosphere of the film, your relationship also seems frigid. Was there a backstory to the relationship?
Jocelin Donahue: We were just talking about how it was fun to kind of figure out what their history was and that it’s kind of not traditional. We drop in on these people in kind of a moment of tension in their relationship, and then there’s crazy life or death stakes while they’re already working through their stuff or ignoring it and trying not to speak about it. We talked about where it was coming from and what’s happening outside of the frame and outside of that night.
Joe Swanberg: I feel completely justified in my cold, icy demeanor and behavior, I think I was thoroughly abused by Jocelin’s character (laughs). By the time you see me in this movie, I’m just a sad shell of my former self, just a sucker who’s accompanying her on her personal mission because I’m too weak to say no (laughs). But yeah, we talked about it and worked out a scenario which I was really into, where our relationship had sort of ended, like I had been ghosted by her or something until she needed me or needed some kind of emotional support animal to accompany her down to Florida and I was so lonely and happy to hear from her that I jumped in the car (laughs). It was a really super fun dynamic and a great space to play my favorite kind of character dynamics, it was really, really fun.
When we do see what’s causing mayhem in this oceanside town, it’s pretty breathtaking. Can you talk a little bit about the design of the creature, especially cause it could have been easy to do a Lovecraftian-inspired creature, which you did not do?
Mickey Keating: You’re right on the money for sure. We said from the very beginning that this isn’t Godzilla. Like, you’re not going to see this monster come and destroy this town. This really is this kind of literal figure that would kind of justify why people would bow down to it and sell their souls. The metaphor of him being able to basically infect all of these people, and you see what they turn into when they wrong him, as a certain character does in the film, was super important. I had worked with James Ojala on the show I did with Shudder called The Core, and he did all of the effects and anything that they needed. So, he was the first person that I sent the script to and I was like, “Just give this a look.” I kind of wanted it to have a blend between maybe like a Japanese sort of monster but also kind of like an Americana sea monster, and he just absolutely went with it. It’s funny because you only see the shadow on the horizon at the end, but he built this entire elaborate, amazing costume for this actor and one day I’ll release the real picture of it. My producers were very supportive but they’re like, “Why do you shadow him so much?” I wanted to leave it open for interpretation and for people to be able to project onto this monster what they find scary. It’s kind of like showing the baby in Rosemary’s Baby. You don’t want to do that too much (laughs).
I found myself relating to this film with the idea of going back to a place you don’t want to revisit for whatever reason (heartache, death). But ultimately, do you all think that there’s power in returning to a place of pain to reclaim it?
Mickey Keating: Sure, sure. Absolutely.
Jocelin Donahue: Yeah, that’s a really nice, deep question. There’s a lot about the pull of family and even your ancestors or where you come from and it seems like Marie has been kind of avoiding this part of her mom’s life and now she’s sucked back in and she has a lot to deal with.
OFFSEASON had its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival on March 17, 2021.