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SXSW 2021: “Offseason” Film Review

When a movie begins with old footage of summers on the beach with a Danny Elfman-esque score behind it, you know it can only go one of two ways: It’s going to become a quirky family film or a dark and disturbing thrill ride. “Offseason” is more in the latter category.

Written and directed by Mickey Keating (“Darling”), this film follows a young woman named Marie (Jocelin Donahue) as she ventures to the island on which her mother Ava (Melora Walters) was buried. Marie had received a letter from the cemetery’s groundskeeper, who said that Ava’s grave was vandalized, and Marie must come immediately to take care of matters. Marie brings along an unexplained companion, George (Joe Swanberg), who might be an ex-boyfriend, and the two realize that something might be a little off as soon as they arrive. They’re greeted by someone who mans the bridge (Richard Brake); he tells them that the island is closing itself off until spring, but then decides to let them cross when he sees Marie’s letter.

At this point, the movie is broken into chapters with elaborate black-and-white title cards. It’s a fairly fast-paced screenplay, as the movie clocks in only around 82 minutes. It isn’t long before Marie realizes something is really wrong, and by the time she meets Henry (Jeremy Gardner) at a local restaurant, she’s skeptical of everyone and everything on the island. It does take a while for her to share with George some fantastical (and creepy) stuff that her mother said about the place before she died — namely, that the residents made a deal with a demon from the sea.

We get flashbacks and glimpses of both Ava and Marie’s lives before Ava’s death, and it appears that wasn’t a very good (or even strong) relationship between the mother and daughter. It’s absolutely fair for Marie to have questioned her mother’s warnings about the island, but it doesn’t entirely make sense that she would rush out there just because of a smashed gravestone. And that leads to the main issue with “Offseason,” which is that the story (and therefore the ever-present threat) is a bit thin. The movie itself isn’t bad; I just wish there was more meat to the story.

The film aesthetically evokes “Silent Hill” and John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” with foreboding storms and gloom everywhere. But the themes and story beats fall more in line with “The Wicker Man,” “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and any number of Lovecraftian tales. Gardner plays a character not unlike his lead in “After Midnight,” as he appears unkempt and kind of crazed. Donahue carries the film, much like she has in the past with movies like “House of the Devil,” and I have to hand it to her: No one can do wide-eyed terror quite like Jocelin Donahue.

As you watch this film, you may be able to see where it’s going, but it meanders enough that there are slight misdirections here and there, too. While “Offseason” won’t be the most original story you see on your screen, it has enough talent behind it to offer up something that’s worth watching if you enjoy the types of stories that inspired it.

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