Mickey Keating delivers a well-crafted slice of Floridian folk horror
From the opening shot, Offseason crafts an evocative atmosphere. A fragment of the Carnival of the Animals playing over a moody shot of a seafront, imagery broken by the broken words of a dying mother to her daughter. While coming to terms with her loss, Marie (Jocelin Donahue, The House of the Devil, Doctor Sleep)receives a letter informing her that her mother’s grave has been vandalized, and her presence is urgently needed. Heading south, to the coastal town of Lone Palm with her partner George (Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies, The Sacrament) in tow, they arrive at the island community on the eve of its closure. The tourists have left, and seasonal storms are about to arrive. It’s immediately apparent that something is off about this place, and the people in it. They find no cooperation from the locals, beyond some vague warnings and weird remarks, and when they try to depart they find their way off the island blocked. The pair are separated and Jocelyn finds herself alone, trying to escape, as the community around her becomes all the more twisted and dark.
Offseason feels steeped in Folk Horror, The Wicker Man is the first thing that springs to mind. As Sergeant Howie was drawn to Summerisle by an ominous letter, as is Marie to Lone Palms. A thriller vibe, an outsider piecing together a mystery, along with tropes such as the hush that falls when they enter the local bar, a man who tries to warn them away but fails, and glimpses in the background of figures maneuvering plot and people into position. The setting on the Floridian coast puts a unique spin on the tone and aesthetics, a Southern Gothic feel with desolate beaches, grey skies, rickety interiors, gnarled and bent forests, with glimpses of palm trees and agave, all bathed in fog. Standout moments as an intense experiential sequence within a History museum or the horrifyingly beautiful Lovecraftian imagery showcased in the films finale linger in the mind .The whole thing feels like an oppressive and haunting postcard from a seaside resort or an homage to the Silent Hill series.
The cast too is replete with faces that lend themselves to the uneasy atmosphere most notably with a brief but potent turn from Richard Brake (31, Three from Hell, Mandy). But it’s Donahue that carries much of the weight of the film, ably conveying how cut adrift her character is in this confusing nightmare. Marie struggles to reckon with events at Lone Pines, but also with the relationship she had with her estranged mother, something explored through a series of flashbacks. Beyond chronicling their conflict, and their professional and personal relationship, they add to the intrigue of Lone Pines, revealing her wishes to not be interred there upon her death, and a stark warning about something dark at its core.
After earlier works such as Darling, Carnage Park, and Ritual, writer/director Mickey Keating delivers a continuation of his style, and a solidifying his approach. Aside from some of the jump scares and sound being a little heavy handed at times, there’s a real sense of precision to the piece as it moves Marie towards something dreadful and inevitable. It all comes together to deliver a well crafted slice of Floridian folk horror.