SXSW 2021: OFFSEASON Review – Mickey Keating Pays Homage to John Carpenter’s THE FOG
In her 4-Star review from SXSW, Michelle Swope compares OFFSEASON to John Carpenter's THE FOG.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Richard Brake, Jeremy Gardner
Written by Mickey Keating
Directed by Mickey Keating
This year’s SXSW Film Festival has gone virtual for the first time, thanks to the never-ending pandemic, but that doesn’t take away from the fact the festival is offering some great films you can enjoy from the comfort of your living room. With films covering everything from vampires to folklore, every horror fan is guaranteed to find something they like in the Midnighter’s section. My favorite film from director Mickey Keating is without a doubt Darling (2015), which much like his last film, Psychopaths (2017), leaves a lot up to the viewer by the end credits.
Keating’s newest film, Offseason, which premiered in the Midnighter’s section of SXSW this year, shares the sort of vague storytelling style he’s known for with his previous films, but similarly to Darling, this did not stop from me from enjoying it. Offseason stars Jocelin Donahue (Dead Awake, Doctor Sleep) as Marie Aldritch, a woman we don’t know much about except for the fact that she has recently lost her mother, played by Melora Walters, in a series of flashbacks. We later learn that her mother Ava was an actress who lost her mind, and was possibly suffering from dementia, before dying while Marie was caring for her. In a rare moment of lucidity before hear death, Ava frantically begs Marie not to return her body to the island where she grew up for burial. Ava does not get her dying wish after her will declares she must be buried on the island.
After receiving a mysterious letter from the caretaker of the cemetery telling her that her mother’s grave has been destroyed and urging her to come immediately, Marie and her friend George (Joe Swanberg) travel to the island. In a brief encounter when they arrive, they are met by a man on the bridge, played by Richard Brake, who tells them the only way off the island is by the bridge that is about to close due to an incoming storm. I passionately believe that if you’re going to cast Richard Brake in your movie, you better be prepared to utilize his talents to the fullest extent, so I was ecstatic when Brake reappears later in the film to do what he does best.
Unable to locate the caretaker of the cemetery, Marie and George go to a restaurant to ask the locals where they can find him, and immediately realize that something is a little off with the people who live on this island. Indie favorite Jeremy Gardner plays a fisherman who seems to be the only person willing to talk to the couple and tells Marie he is “the last man out” and has a boat that can help them leave the island after the bridge is closed, but before she can think about leaving, Marie owes it to her mother to find the elusive caretaker so she can have her grave repaired.
An ominous score throughout the film adds to the increasing feeling of dread that permeates the film as Marie and George realize they may be stuck on the island longer than they had anticipated. Hazy nighttime visuals for much of the story lend to the foreboding atmosphere and beautifully pay homage to John Carpenter’s The Fog. After sharing with George that shortly before her death, Marie’s mother told her an outrageous story about the people on the island being beholden to some kind of sinister entity, George disappears. Marie finds herself endlessly wandering through the middle of town, which is completely deserted and has a terrifying sense of isolation and despair, reminiscent of Silent Hill.
When Marie finally makes her way to the bridge and attempts to escape, she is confronted by a deranged Richard Brake who gives a completely unhinged monologue in classic Richard Brake fashion explaining why Marie can never leave the island. I have to admit, this is my favorite part of the movie. While the story is similar to ones we’ve all seen before and Jocelin Donahue isn’t given a lot to work with here, other than frightened close-ups, I’m one of those weirdos who frequently enjoys a movie that doesn’t explain everything in graphic detail. I realize there are a lot of people who do not appreciate ambiguous stories, but the overall mood of the film, which successfully utilizes nods to The Fog and Silent Hill, some genuinely creepy visuals, and a psychotic performance from Richard Brake make Offseason a dark and unnerving experience.
Offseason successfully utilizes genuinely creepy visuals and nods to films like The Fog and Silent Hill to make for a truly unnerving experience.