The days of truly original ideas are long gone as every movie feels inspired by or related to an older film in one way or another. That’s not grounds for critical drubbing, either, as what matters is what a filmmaker does with that inspiration. Mickey Keating‘s latest, Offseason, will remind genre fans of any number of films from decades past to just last year, but for all that he recalls here the film never quite finds a way to stand on its own.
Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) is heading to the small island community her mother Ava (Melora Walters) once called home after being summoned by a town official. It seems her mother’s gravesite in Lone Palm Beach has been disturbed — this being Marie’s first red flag — and they need her to address the issue sooner rather than later. She arrives with her wet blanket lover George (Joe Swanberg) in tow and is warned by the Bridge Man (Richard Brake) that an encroaching storm signals the island’s closure meaning they’ll need to hurry as once the bridge lifts it won’t reopen until spring. The town and its surrounding palm tree-laden landscape is immediately a source of discomfort as incessant fog, alternately aggressive and odd townspeople, and a lack of answers hampers their visit. And then things really get weird.
At barely over eighty minutes, Offseason wastes no time ramping up the strange behaviors and mystery of both the locals and Marie’s mom. The latter is explored through flashbacks and exposition revealing early on that Ava believed Lone Palm Beach to be cursed by a long-ago association with a being that crawled out of the sea offering bounty and eternal life. It was the ramblings of a dying woman, or so Marie believed, but as she wanders eerily vacant streets, faces off against silent, dead-eyed mobs, and struggles to escape, she realizes too late that small-town Lovecraftian warnings should be heeded.
Keating’s film belongs in the canon of dreamlike nightmares unfolding with less concern for logic than atmosphere, and that’s as much by design as it is by a story that doesn’t try very hard to gel in its details. Information seeps in via conversations past and present, and while most townspeople are opaque others like the Bridge Man or the Fisherman (Jeremy Gardner) offer a swirling blend of legend and warning. Marie’s focus moves from curiosity to panic, but escape from an unreal fate seems increasingly unlikely as roads grow disorienting, faces in the woods become threatening, and the end grows closer.
Some jump scares exist, but Offseason is more interested in an atmospheric unease which proves a strength for Keating. From the eerie emptiness and day/night ambiguity to locals frozen in place, unmoving until it’s time to stalk Marie through the streets, the film is at its best when reminding of 1973’s Messiah of Evil. As frightening as her uncertainty can be, it’s all heightened by a mob of encroaching, pale-eyed ghouls moving ever closer.
While Willard Huyck’s cult classic feels like the immediate inspiration (or template, even), other films coming to mind including Dead & Buried (1981), Dagon (2001), Silent Hill (2006), and The Block Island Sound (2020) despite never matching the narrative strengths or memorable visuals found in any of them. White-eyed locals aside, this particular nightmare scenario is almost entirely devoid of monsters, demons, or aquatic threats despite their inclusion in the film’s lore. None are needed, necessarily, but without some kind of imagery to call its own the film struggles to find its own genre footing as viewers are instead left with a wandering protagonist and familiar sights.
“What if this is some kind of trap?” asks Marie early on after explaining the entire backstory, and you can’t help but chuckle at her on the nose awareness. The character’s plight still works, though, due in large part to Donahue’s performance. She’s long since proven her value as a performer who captures viewer empathy and concern with her turns in The House of the Devil (2009), the “Father’s Day” segment in Holidays (2016), and more, and as the beating heart of Offseason she becomes its greatest asset.
Offseason ultimately works as an atmospheric chiller despite lacking its own unique identity, and from Donahue to the Messiah of Evil nods there’s more than enough here for genre fans to enjoy. “Ain’t nothing wrong with these people,” says the Fisherman, “they’re just cursed is all.” There ain’t nothing wrong with this film, either… it’s just familiar is all.