Offseason Dir: Mickey Keating (Shudder Film Review)

Offseason is an eerie and unsettling cosmic horror film by writer and director Mickey Keating, elevated to excellence by Jocelin Donahue’s outstanding lead performance and a consistently well-executed tone of impending and inescapable dread.

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

Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) receives a letter from the caretaker of The Lone Palm Cemetery, requesting she come at once as her mother’s grave has been vandalised. As her only living relative, and with no other way to contact the writer, she travels to the isolated island town with her estranged ex-partner, George Darrow (Joe Swanberg).

Upon arriving, the two discover that the island is closing for “the offseason” and the only bridge connecting the island with the mainland will be raised until Spring, giving them less than a day to complete their journey and return before they are stranded on the island for months. The two begin to investigate, but soon the area is shrouded in fog… and with it bringing unspeakable horrors from the unseen depths of darkness and madness.

First off – Offseason is an awesome horror film, and if you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, cosmic horror, or anything Great Deep Elder God Old Ones related, this is absolutely for you. Stop reading, go watch it, then come back.

For anyone else, or those now returning, here’s a closer look at some of the aspects of Offseason that make it a memorable horror film worth your time.

The casting in this film is phenomenal. Jocelin Donahue carries the lead and bulk of the film’s weight and narrative on her shoulders effortlessly, while Joe Swanberg provides the perfect amount of rational, questioning balance and believable conflict as her ex-partner. One of the great aspects of this genre is watching someone essentially lose their grip on reality, often driven by a sense of guilt, and there’s a deep display of that on screen.

The authenticity of these two as a couple is outstanding; perfectly encapsulating both the original intensely supportive love for each other with the conflicted bitterness and confusion that comes with it fading and disappearing.

The ensemble cast of the townsfolk all work together excellently, but what makes the casting absolutely spectacular here is the inclusion of Melora Walters as Marie’s deceased mother and, to a slightly lesser degree, Richard Brake as the Bridge Man. As two supporting characters with limited screen time, the absolute ferocity these two actors show in bringing their character’s authenticity and intensity to life is just an absolute joy to watch.

Brake plays up to his stereotype very well without being caricatured, but Walters is the absolute diamond here, immediately ensnaring and trapping the viewer into her internalised dread from the moment the film opens on her gaunt and distressed expression.

This hazy and uncomfortable confession directly to the viewer also highlights the excellence of the script and the writing, never sounding forced or overly dramatised. It’s authentic and genuine, and that makes everything all the more horrifying because the audience can’t simply brush it off as lazy writing or character stupidity. The characters in this film are smart, they’re just hopelessly doomed, which encapsulates the theme of cosmic horror perfectly.

The sound design and soundtrack are interesting, and the audio cues that are littered throughout the film help guide and drive the first viewing and inform any repeats. The cinematography on display is also excellent, capturing the vast, desolate oceans and beaches surrounding the town, and building a memorable tone that never feels like the film jumps between scenes and sets. It’s fluid and consistent, and this applies equally to the film’s sense of tension.

23 minutes into the film features one of the best relationship conversations I have ever seen in a horror film. It is so, so good, so well-acted, and so perfectly presented in how both parties would react and reveal that information. It’s excellent, it feels real and justified, and every single moment of this makes these people feel real. It evokes a natural, genuine emotion that we connect with our own relationships, successful, failed, or rekindled.

The lighting is glorious in this scene as well, otherworldly red drenching the characters as they begin to unravel, and even before the true hellish reality of their situation begins to sink in and the wider spaces soon turn to dark, claustrophobic basements and dense forests.

Special effects are excellent here, the creature horror is wonderful and shows exactly how much can be accomplished on a limited budget and with exceptional editing and lighting. At no point does the film ever reflect any type of budget, it works with what it has and uses the skill of its creators in the ways The Thing or The Void worked so well.

The final 20 minutes of the film are so beautifully executed that we feel the desperate last threads of sanity begin to fray as we watch it happen on screen, utilising the same clock-ticking sound effect to create a sense of imminent dread, leading up to an incredibly satisfying ending for the specific flavour of horror it’s presenting to us.

It’s at once both respectful of the tone and its characters and does so without tricking its audience or compromising on character authenticity. It takes skill and considerable effort to create a script that doesn’t take a shortcut or cheapen a character to further the story.

Little nods to the wider Lovecraftian and cosmic horror lore show that there’s genuine love for fans of the genre in the creation of Offseason (Aldrich means ‘old, wise ruler’ and is phonetically similar to the highly common Eldritch of the genre). There are plenty more in here, but I’ll simply advise you to visit The Lone Palms at once… they have such wonderful, wonderful things… to show you.

Oxford Lamoureaux

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