Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Christina Campenella, Don Wood, Angus Scrimm, Francine Pado, Larry Fessenden
Directed by James Felix McKeeney
Warning: Minor spoilers within…
The Off Season is a movie I’ve been reading about for a while now, and it’s held my interest for two good reasons: First, it’s the second feature to come out of Larry (Wendigo, Habit) Fessenden’s Scare Flix production arm (the first, for me at least, was Zombie Honeymoon), and second, it features Angus Scrimm in a non-Tall Man role. Always a good thing. For me it’s more of a curiosity flick than anything else, and I’m glad I didn’t go in expecting too much because what I got was almost enough to qualify as an effective ghost story. But I’ll get to that.
The Off Season centers on a couple, Rick and Kathryn (Wood and Campenella, respectively) as they arrive in a small town in Maine. They’re there so Rick can continue to work in peace on his play, and Kathryn has agreed to leave New York City with him to support her boyfriend. Their first mistake is to take a room at the local Viking Motel, which rents out monthly in the off season, and more specifically to be moved to Room 13 after they find the bathroom in their original unit covered in feces. That’s poop to you and me. A nasty hello, if I do say so myself, but considering the history of Room 13, I would have chosen the shit room any day.
The idea put forth, eventually, is that the room is haunted by the troubled spirits of the people who have died in it before, specifically a young girl who had claimed to have the child of the local minister back in the day, then killed the baby and herself. The problem with this idea, however, is that none of this information is revealed, nor even hinted at aside from the random shots of the ghost girl, until the final 30 minutes of the movie.
Previous to these events the film chooses to focus on Rick, who’s trying to get himself to write while avoiding the eccentric neighbor (Scrimm, in top form) and trying to stay sober for a few hours. Not an easy task when you’re a struggling writer stuck in the middle of Nowhere, Maine, and Rick soon succumbs to the drink. Basically the first two thirds of The Off Season is about the slow deterioration of Rick and Kathryn’s relationship, and it’s only after Rick decides he has to get out that the focus shifts more directly to the ghosts.
Of course there are hints of bad things unfolding, and for a while Rick is on a seemingly Jack Torrence-esque descent into madness, but then he just leaves and the story shifts to Kathryn trying to deal with it. It’s just plain jarring to be honest, and not in a good way, as you’re not really sure what the point of it all was once Rick is out of the picture. Then we start getting some back story on the previous tenants, and a focus is picked back up again, but by then it was really too late for me to find it at all frightening. A shame, too, because some of the earlier scares were pretty damn effective.
I think what The Off Season suffered from most of all was the lack of a tighter script. The direction was solid throughout with some expertly done shots thrown in at the right moments and a solid cast (not a weak one among ‘em, certainly a rarity in today’s indie film world), but it just could’ve been that much better if the storyline kept on even ground.
The only real feature to speak of, aside from the gallery of trailers for soon-to-be-classics like Alien 3000, The Psychic and Slaughterhouse Massacre (which actually doesn’t look too bad…) is “Closed for the Season: The Making of The Off Season”. While it does follow the tired-and-true (and usually dull as hell) formula of being a guy with a hand-held videotaping during the film shoot, the creators were wise enough to know that, as previously stated, such “making-of” featurettes are usually dull as hell.
To break it up we have an interview with Angus Scrimm that is cut to once in a while, some behind-the-scenes antics from cast & crew (who all look like a great bunch of guys and gals), as well as the usual long shots of scenes being set up, etc. Then it goes to some re-shoots that were done later in NYC and Connecticut, some random stuff filmed in L.A., and the premiere of the film at the NYC Pioneer Theater. It’s well edited and never gets boring and is worth sitting through just to hear Angus Scrimm singing about kissing prairie dogs over the final credits. Truly unique.
Overall, The Off Season serves as a relatively solid entry that would have benefited from some script tightening here and there (especially the end) to keep things flowing more evenly. It’s all right to confuse your audience now and then, but you’d better have a damn good reason for it in the end, and unfortunately The Off Season, more often then not, doesn’t.
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