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Sometimes all you have to do is nail the basics. Horror films can get caught up in being innovative or different or artistic, none of which are bad things, but can sometimes lead to a movie doing too much. What makes a good horror film, though, is the tension and scares. Everything else is just extra, you have to nail the basics. Offseason nails the basics.
It’s a horror film with a bad guy and scary things and the general plot you’d expect from a horror film, yet it does everything it needs to do so well and so tightly that it elevates itself above cliche. This is a film that looks like cliche on paper but opens up because it’s so well directed and delivered, only faltering in its world-building, which doesn’t matter when it’s ratcheting up the tension so well.
Director: Mickey Keating
Release Date: N/A
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, horror fans: a couple visit a secluded town with a dark secret and become trapped by the strange locals and supernatural occurrences. You’ve got the plot for Offseason right there. Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) receives a brief letter that her mother’s grave has been vandalized and she must come to the small Florida Keys island she is buried on. She and her sort-of boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) head down there just making it over the bridge before the entire island shuts down for the season, cutting itself off from the rest of the world. Things get weird very quickly as the town seems almost entirely empty and the few people they do meet are acting very strangely.
There are hints of John Carpenter’s classic The Fog in here, of course, as the small town plays host to darker demons but Offseason stands on its own despite playing on horror tropes. The movie is incredibly tight, barely giving any breathing room as Marie struggles to leave the island and begins uncovering its dark secrets and her personal connection to the location. Director Mickey Keating keeps things moving along, barely allowing you to breathe despite Donahue being the only person on screen for large chunks of the movie.
Donahue carries a large chunk of this film. The actress is becoming quite the modern “scream queen” and this is probably her best turn in a horror film. Her steady descent into darkness and badassness writ across her face and her final moments in the film pitch-perfect as she reflects her mother’s opening monolog in a fourth-wall-breaking moment. A lesser actress would not have carried this film.
That’s because this isn’t a slasher. There is some H.P. Lovecraft-style horror but most of the film rests on tension and creep-outs, allowing for quick views of possessed villagers and offscreen horrors to do most of the heavy lifting. The moment things start getting weird the movie doesn’t let up for a moment, building tension until its big climactic scene explodes in a glory of family issues and flashbacks.
That might be Offseasons‘s one weakness: the film is moving so fast it can’t quite flesh out its world. While Marie’s connection to the island is established through flashbacks with her mother the way the “evil” functions on the island is left incredibly ambiguous, though it feels like the movie wants to explain it. Ambiguity can be a great thing for a horror movie but Offseason clearly wants there to be some big bad, going as far as showing it at the end of the film. It’s here that the movie falters, pulling us out of the supernatural tension and into something more concrete — losing exactly what’s it’s trying to create.
Still, the ride to that moment is nothing short of fantastic. The film delivers in every way a horror/thriller should and never overstays its welcome. This is the kind of horror that you’ll think about later that night, burrowing into your consciousness until the next time you think about going on visiting the Florida Keys and, for some reason you can’t remember, you decide instead to go somewhere else.