The folk horror film maximizes its locations to genuinely foreboding, occasionally riveting effect.
In the first moments of Mickey Keating’s (Psychopaths, Carnage Park, Darling) gripping film Offseason, an unapologetic, unironic slice of trope-embracing folk horror, a bedraggled, middle-aged woman speaks directly to the camera or to an unseen partner. What seemingly starts as a rational, grounded monologue about roads not taken and choices not made ends abruptly with an existential scream followed by a fade to black. It’s as disquieting and disconcerting an opening scene in recent cinematic history, implicitly promising an emotional and narrative journey into wrenching family drama (and trauma) mixed with surreal, skin-crawling terror.
Offseason repeatedly returns to the disturbing mood and atmosphere created by this first scene. We soon learn that the woman, Ava Aldrich (Melora Walters), has moved on from this mortal coil. Her influence and presence, however, continues to hang over her thirty-something daughter, Marie (Jocelin Donahue, House of the Devil), and her daughter’s bespectacled longtime partner, George Darrow (mumblecore pioneer Joe Swanberg). They’re driving south from New York City to Ava’s enigmatic birthplace and burial space, Lone Palm, an isolated coastal island closing within hours to outsiders due to the imminent winter season.
Marie’s return to Lone Palm has little or nothing to do with paying respects to her late mother or her memory, but to the purported desecration of Ava’s cemetery plot. Marie’s anxious, antsy behavior combined with a misplaced sense of urgency suggests that her state of mind isn’t as stable as it first seemed. As callous as it might sound, her mother’s dead and the dead are nothing if not patient; she could have handled the repair of her mother’s grave remotely or simply waited until the spring, but it’s obvious that Marie doesn’t want to wait, in large part due to her late mother’s misgivings about Lone Palm and her dying wish not to be buried there—a wish contradicted by her last will and testament.
Once Marie and George arrive in Lone Palm, Keating inexorably piles on the eeriness, from the unfriendly locals who freeze at inopportune moments, suggesting an offscreen, unseen puppet master, to the only road out of Lone Palm that becomes impassable the moment they try to leave. In a newly deserted Lone Palm, Marie, separated from George, wanders through one empty storefront after another, looking for answers that remain perpetually out of reach. They’re closer, though, for genre-familiar audiences who’ll easily decipher the nature of the mystery behind Lone Palm, who’s responsible for it, and what they ultimately want with Marie.
While Marie’s narrative journey never strays from well-trodden genre paths, Keating overlays the proceedings with fog so thick and ever-present that half-aware audiences might confuse Offseason with an unofficial remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog (or even the stealth Silent Hill sequel genre fans have been due for close to a decade). When Keating isn’t paying homage to Carpenter, he’s liberally borrowing ideas, concepts, and plot turns from H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft’s many successors and imitators. For all the lack of narrative originality, however, Offseason maximizes its locations and modest budget to genuinely foreboding, occasionally riveting effect.
RLJE Films and Shudder will release Offseason in theaters and on VOD and Digital on March 11, 2022.