Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Keating is a master of building up atmosphere and is much more interested in that than in conventional plot mechanics." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Another intensely stylish, emotionally high key mystery from Darling director Mickey Keating, Offseason is clad in the garb of horror but is at its core a film about family, homeland, and the inexorable power which these things can sometimes exert over us even when we do everything in our power to get away. it’s a film about entering middle age and finding oneself trapped by precisely the kind of lifestyle one tried to get away from. The tentacles are just a sideshow.

If one iis going to deal in characters who feel trapped, there is nothing like an island setting. Marie (Jocelin Donahue) is drawn there by the news that her mother’s grave has been vandalised. Though she and her mother did not get along, she feels a vague sense of duty to sort things out, especially as her mother had begged her not to let her be returned there in the first place – “Not my bones, not my ashes, nothing!” She’s accompanied by sometime boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg), but like a new addition to an awkward family dinner party, he just drifts around awkwardly, occasionally trying to persuade her that she’s over-reacting. Arguably he’s right, since once she’s arrived there, there seems to be very little she can do to control the situation.

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There are echoes of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s excellent The Endless in a plot which hinges on the whims of vast beings keeping humans as something between vassals and pets. One lighting-struck vista out across the sea provides tantalising hints of HP Lovecraft’s most famous creation, but Marie’s growing sense of hopelessness can also be understood in more mundane terms, and it’s the overlap between the two that gives the film its power. Marie is clearly suffering from trauma even before she arrives on the island, and her interactions with George suggest that he’s used to having to calm her down. If her troubles were caused by her mother, what was it that damaged her mother so badly in the first place? Can she learn to see her in a different light as she uncovers the island’s secrets?

Located just off the southern US coast, the island is tropical in climate, which means lots of rain and fog and swamp Gothic. It’s the kind of place where the atmosphere can be literally suffocating, and where bodies don’t stay buried for long. In the tourist season, when the sun is shining, it looks very different, so there’s also the suggestion of that particular kind of seediness to be found behind the scenes in seaside communities where cheery façades hide creeping decay. Keating is a master of building up atmosphere and is much more interested in that than in conventional plot mechanics, so whilst some viewers may feel frustrated that very little seems to be happening, others will enjoy the film for its darkly poetic aspects.

Like the director’s previous work, Offseason is bursting with potential which never quite seems to come to fruition. It’s a watchable enough little horror film but it feels as if it ought to be a great deal more. Keating is yet to show us what he’s really capable of. When he does, this will no doubt be an intriguing work to look back on.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2022
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Offseason packshot
After receiving a mysterious letter, a woman travels to a desolate island town and soon becomes trapped in a nightmare.
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Director: Mickey Keating

Writer: Mickey Keating

Starring: Joe Swanberg, Jocelin Donahue, Melora Walters, Richard Brake, Jeremy Gardner

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US

Streaming on: Shudder

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