In OFFSEASON, Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) gets a strange letter and goes on a journey to her mother’s birthplace after her headstone was desecrated. She is accompanied on this trip by George Darrow (Joe Swanberg) and comes to an island that is closing down after the summer season. With time running out, Marie tries to find answers and complete her task, but the winds begin to blow and as darkness falls, it seems impossible to leave.
OFFSEASON is a very Lovecraftian style horror film that has many interesting touches and scenes, but on the whole, doesn’t gel as a truly scary experience. While it is never completely spelled out, the fascination and connection of the town and islanders to the ocean and rumors of a pact with an unknown force means Lovecraft to me. The islanders seem possessed by that force. Many of the tableaux of the islanders surrounding characters are striking and unnerving.
A particular scene with a death caused by strange vines is definitely frightening. The atmosphere and the seemingly inescapable island are also very Lovecraft-esque. Those are the most compelling parts of the film without spoiling too much, hopefully.
What doesn’t work for me, I think, is best illustrated by saying that with most of the performances of the actors in the film, I never believed that they were really frightened. The exception is the performance of Jeremy Gardner as The Fisherman. I believed that they were angry, confused, and bored, but not frightened. Some of the supporting players were quite creepy, especially in the scenes of tableaux. There’s a scene at a certain point where a person talking directly to the screen ends the scene by shrieking into the camera. It didn’t scare me as much as it reminded me of those YouTube scare videos where nothing happens and, in the end, a ghost or ghoulie appears in front of the camera and screams or there’s a loud noise. I knew that was coming, just like I have every time someone tries to frighten me with one of those videos. In other words, the scare wasn’t earned. It was just shock value. That works for a lot of people, but not me.
Without the vulnerability afforded by allowing a character to be scared, it’s hard for the audience to empathize with them, and it’s especially deadly for a film when you feel that way about the lead. Don’t get me wrong, the character is written as someone who is not very vulnerable to start with. But at some point, in this kind of situation, those cracks in the facade of that character have to show in one way or another, even if it’s underneath the surface. The best moment for actress Jocelin Donahue occurs in the epilogue. It is perfectly played, but there’s no vulnerability to it. Joe Swanberg is good as George, particularly after Marie runs from the car trying to escape. Jonathan Medina as Mr. Clayton, Esq, and Eliza Shin asMs. Gardner, Esq. are hilariously odd as two of the world’s most sunnily strange lawyers.
It’s always a pleasure to see Larry Fessenden (H. Grierson) and Richard Brake as Bridge Man is one of the most determined bridge attendants I’ve ever seen and that’s a good thing. Melora Waters does have nice touches of a mother who is clearly not in her right mind and who is a former movie star who doesn’t have much time or patience for her child.
Mickey Keating has assembled many good elements in OFFSEASON and I appreciate that he never tries to dictate to the audience what is going on or over-explain the elements of the story. I just wish I could be crazy about the film and I’m not.
OFFSEASON is a Lovecraftian story about inescapable fate and an equally inescapable island that almost gels for me, but not quite.
OFFSEASON directed by Mickey Keaton is a film that I saw during its festival run and now that it is screening on Shudder, I was persuaded to give it a reevaluation.
One thing that I will say about the film that I missed before was how gorgeously it was shot. The cinematography is glorious and weirdly soothing among the ominous portents of the script which is really wonderful work from Keating and the cinematographer Mac Fisken (POD, Carnage Park, Thriller). The gliding shots over the islands with that particular shade of blue. The cold green and the golden licking flames illuminate some scenes, a kind of cleansing fire, really drew me in on the second watch. It’s candy for the eyes of cinematography fans.
It seems to me that there were some edits to bring the Lovecraftian themes to the forefront a bit more. There was a relief carved with a Cthulhu-like sculpture. Is it strictly necessary? Perhaps not, but it is a nice touch.
Among the performances, I have to shout out to April Linscott who plays Miss Emily with an unsettling smile and damned eyes, and the unknown actors who stand in the forest and are only glimpsed at a distance. Their presences, while brief, added a chill to the proceedings.
My major issue with the film remains but seems a bit softened by a second viewing or what I imagine is a subtle edit. Jocelin Donahue’s performance is perfectly fine and she’s a lovely presence, but just lacks a bit of the true fear that is required of the role.
One thing that I have come to appreciate about OFFSEASON on a second viewing is the subtlety of the general proceedings. Most Lovecraftian films go as big as possible because of the subject matter and I think that there’s something good to exploring the material and the canon in a different way. It’s nicer to see a more obscure attempt at this kind of material.
OFFSEASON had its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival on March 17, 2021. It is now currently playing on Shudder. To learn more about the film, check out our interview with the cast and director here.