REVIEW: Offseason [2022]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 83 minutes
    Release Date: March 11th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: RLJE Films / Shudder
    Director(s): Mickey Keating
    Writer(s): Mickey Keating

Wherever I went, there they were.

When your dementia-riddled mother starts screaming about nightmares following her and demons crawling out from the water, it doesn’t matter how lucid she appeared to be beforehand. You tell her what she wants to hear, try to make her as calm and comfortable as possible, and wait for the inevitable. That’s what Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) did when Ava’s (Melora Walters) clear eyes and confident voice spun an outlandish tale surrounding the isolated island where she grew up and left without ever going back. She heard her mother’s pleas to ensure no part of her body returned there in death and assured her with a promise that none ever would. Except she had no control. Ava’s will demanded she receive an island burial and the law guaranteed it.

Writer/director Mickey Keating‘s latest film Offseason looks to provide a reckoning in response. The question is whether the person being punished is Ava or Marie. It could very well be both too considering just how little the latter knows about this place—so little that the faces of the people there who seemingly know her drop whenever it becomes obvious Ava told her daughter nothing about their place in her past. Marie’s ignorance towards them isn’t malicious, though. She can’t actively forget that which she didn’t know in the first place. When you’re dealing with supernatural elements and hellish domains thought by outsiders to be Heaven, however, the sins of the parent very often become the sins of the child. They got Ava back. Now they want Marie.

This is their eighty-minute attempt to take what’s “rightfully” theirs … or “His” if you believe the story Ava told about demonic curses. The island has an advantage too thanks to Marie’s aforementioned ignorance towards its customs. All it must do is write her a letter with the tragic news that her mother’s grave was vandalized to get her to come running with her estranged boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) serving as chaperone. Only upon their arrival will she discover that the sole bridge to this seasonal paradise is about to be lifted until the spring. Anyone still caught on the other side will have to wait unless they can get a boat ride to the mainland, so Marie must find the cemetery caretaker quickly before becoming stranded herself.

You can guess what happens next. A fog arrives. Ghostly human visages in the woods appear with white eyes. And time and space seem to be altered once Marie and George become separated—their voices heard but their bodies invisible. A visit to the local bar is supposed to provide clarity, but it too delivers an off-putting air of creepy intent. Everyone seems to know who Marie is and they all appear to be in on some joke at her expense. When a fisherman (Jeremy Gardner) dares to speak in more detail (cryptically or not), the others pull him away. The whole town is simultaneously luring her in and scaring her off, distracting and delaying until she ultimately has nowhere to go but deeper into its malicious clutches.

Keating portrays it all with an effective air of suspense and uncertainty, breaking the script into chapters with fonts that devolve in penmanship and increase in portent. How much of what Ava told Marie on her deathbed is true? Could there be a logical explanation for what’s happening? Or has this unwitting descendant of terror and fear stumbled into the nightmare her mother hoped to spare her from? The journey is sufficiently eerie and Donahue’s lead performance affecting to the point where we do worry about her fate. Where it all takes her may not feel too high stakes or deliver any surprises genre fans wouldn’t already expect, but the production value goes a long way towards helping us forget all that. Offseason stays on-book throughout.

One could call the numerous flashbacks excessive since most provide little more than visual evidence of plot points we’ve already been told via dialogue, but having that reference adds a lot to the experience when someone like Walters is allowed to do what she does best. I could have done without the quick cuts to previous scenes in moments of revelation as though we can’t be trusted to put two-and-two together, but I get it. The film takes ample space to breath as far as mythology is concerned, so a few cues to better situate the audience isn’t completely out-of-bounds. Would things be tighter without them, forcing Keating to make such details more direct? Sure. Its “Twilight Zone” construction and conclusion might just work better truncated.

As it stands now, though, I still found myself engrossed in its mystery enough to see things through. It isn’t as captivating as Keating’s Darling, but I do think it’s a step back in the right direction after Psychopaths (albeit much more generic in execution than both). Sometimes familiarity simply allows for the room to make certain that the style and aesthetic hit the mark. Maybe it doesn’t stimulate your intellect as much as other recent genre fare, but it definitely provides an engrossing setting with which to travel through for eighty-minutes. And Donahue’s Marie supplies a protagonist that earns our investment both to discover how far down the rabbit hold she’ll go and whether she’ll ultimately escape. It’s a mood piece that doesn’t pretend it’s anything more.

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