Offseason Film Review | Atmospheric Horror Ripe With Seaside Spooks And Retro Thrills

In Offseason, written and directed by Mickey Keating, Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) travels to her mothers burial site situated on an isolated offshore island after receiving word that her grave has been vandalised. Searching for the cemetery’s caretaker, she and her partner (Joe Swanberg) find themselves stranded as the sinister truth about the island and its inhabitants is revealed piece by piece.

From the offset, Offseason is shrouded by a gloomy, foggy atmosphere, bathed in blue and green colours. It’s immediately reminiscent of films like Dead & Buried, Messiah of Evil, and the work of Lucio Fulci – aesthetically and in regards to the setting and premise. In many ways it’s also reminiscent of games in the Silent Hill franchise, as well as Lovecraftian fiction as we get into the meat of the plot. All these influences are apposite to the construction of the film, which happily feels like a product of another time and at times like we’re watching a horror video game unfold.

This sense of nostalgia opens the film, with the viewer shown super 8 clips of days gone by: the seaside bathed in sunshine and swarming with tourists, before immediately cutting harshly to the present day, instantly pushing us into the film’s distinct atmosphere. Stylistic nods to cinema’s past continue to be littered throughout from the film’s tried and true catalytic premise to the antiquated, silent film-like intertitles that divide the story into chapters.

A scene in which the two leads enter a local bar sees the vibrant chatter and piano playing come to an instant stop, reminiscent of a classic cartoon or western film; this works both as a nod to classic influences, but also the sense that this island exists in a slightly altered or heightened reality to the mainland. The ensuing tone and dialogue of this scene even brings to mind classic Roger Corman B-pictures.

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Keating’s inspirations from the video game world are also worn on his sleeve. As well as superficial connections to the Silent Hill franchise, some of the structural elements, such as the constant point A to B to C searching for the caretaker and repeated interactions with NPC-like background characters further this feeling. Many of the supporting performances recall FMV video game acting of the 1990s in their stilted, head-on delivery. Again, this serves a dual function, touching on influences while also cementing the strange, distorted nature of the island and its population. One scene, late in the film, in which Marie must follow instructions bit by bit from a VHS tape to lower the island’s drawbridge feels ripped straight from a video game level to the point that it’s downright anti-cinematic and yet, somehow, it works.

The cast is filled with contemporary genre stalwarts from Donahue, who starred in Ti West’s The House of the Devil, to Swanberg, Jeremy Gardner, Richard Brake, and even a voice cameo from Larry Fessenden. All of them are great to watch – especially Donahue, who knocks it out of the park, lining up exactly with the film’s wavelength. One exception is Swanberg, who, surprisingly, isn’t exactly bad here, but is certainly wooden. He plays well into his very small range: the asshole partner who just somehow can’t see that he’s an asshole, and it’s a range he works in with worrying effectiveness.

Offseason certainly isn’t breaking new ground, so if you’re looking for a film that is cutting edge then this probably isn’t for you. However, it is a deceptively enjoyable watch, enveloped in a thick atmosphere, and calling back wonderfully to other times and mediums, supporting itself with good, fitting performances and a tense, teasing musical score that fits well and keeps you on edge.

Offseason is now streaming on Shudder

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