What happens when you throw Silent Hill into a horror mumblecore blender?
You get Offseason!
Mickey Keating’s low-budget, slightly aquatic horror film has plenty to boast about with regard to direction, production design and a few stand-out sequences. Alas the film, which clocks in at a scant 80 minutes, feels unnecessary long and drawn out thanks to a propensity of repetitive investigation scenes dictated by a low budget.
The film follows Marie Aldritch (Jocelin Donahue) as she is lured back to Lone Palm, a small tourist beach town where her famed actress mother Ava (Melora Walters) has been buried – despite her mother’s explicit death bed pleas not to be. Marie and her boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) arrive at the end of tourist season and they’re warned by the Bridge Man (Richard Brake) that they have a fixed 24 hour window before the bridge back to the mainland is raised.
With the clock ticking and a bevy of unhelpful residents – many of whom act very strangely when pressed for innocuous details – Marie and George become increasingly turned around. As the storm builds in intensity, the couple soon realize they’re in over their heads, but it’s too late. Desperate for answers and escape, Marie must fight her way through the storm, Lone Palm’s somnambulist citizens and some otherworldly power feeding all of these strange events.
Credit keating for delivering a foreboding, atmospheric thriller because Offseason looks great. The town is bathed in thick, rolling fog that alternately catches and obscures the light. The setting is believably beachy and slightly run-down (the film was shot on location in New Smyrma, Florida), which provides a kind of everywhere tourist trap vibe. Even places like the Sandtrap, the local watering hole, has a lived-in, familiarity to it that contrasts nicely with the uncanny, unwelcome reception that Marie and George receive.
Sadly the great direction and production work is marred by a bare bones narrative that constantly relies on Marie simply walking or running around, investigating empty buildings and having vaguely threatening interactions. This would be less of an issue if the film weren’t so blatantly living in the shadow of Silent Hill, which already tread almost this exact same ground (right down to a threatening air siren at a key moment). The threadbare plot winds up being a huge detriment to the film’s pacing; Offseason feels repetitive and drawn-out. There simply isn’t enough story here for a full-length feature.
Donahue does her best with the material, conveying the appropriate amount of fear, concern, and bewilderment. But she’s stranded by herself for long stretches, trying to make the dilapidated houses and mist seem terrifying. Not helping matters is some poorly timed editing and sound cues during several scary sequences, such as the scene when Marie stares at her mother’s defaced gravestone for a few seconds before a scary stinger drops on the soundtrack. This isn’t an isolated occurrence and it makes for several underwhelming, noticeably “off” scares in a film that is already lacking them.
There are, however, two stand-out sequences. One is the climax, which delivers some brief, but exceedingly memorable visuals.
The other stand-out occurs when Marie follows Jeremy Gardner’s fisherman back to his house. What follows is a tense encounter in tight confines as the pair are separated and Marie is forced to wander the dark, unfamiliar house herself. It’s a perfect synthesis of Keating’s penchant for slow, steady pans, evocative lighting and practical effects. It’s a legitimately scary and confronting scene that tantalizingly teases a more exciting feature that Offseason can’t deliver.
And therein lies the biggest issue with the film. Offseason has all of the trademark atmosphere of a Silent Hill film, up to and including the derelict buildings, the abandoned streets and plenty of fog, but there’s simply not enough here to sustain a feature film. Despite featuring two stand-out sequences, the film is too bereft of narrative and thrills. It’s watchable, but non-essential viewing.