The drawbridges are going up. That is the first warning. There’s a storm and the island is locking their bridges… upright? Not down, so that a worsening storm could be escaped, to prevent malfunctions, or to allow helpful services to reach the island in the case of a crisis. Upright. Would be a creepy enough situation, if the draw of the island weren’t already malevolent.
A caretaker of the on-island Lone Palm cemetery has written to the daughter of the deceased: her mother’s grave has been desecrated. Jocelin Donahue plays Marie Aldritch — a fitting name for anyone stuck deep inside an Eldritch horror of Lovecraftian invention — who we only really get to know in her journey to find out what to do with her mother’s remains. She is joined by hesitant boyfriend Joe Swanberg as George Darrow, who is notably reticent about the whole idea from the jump. When they arrive to someone overseeing the bridge, who says there is no getting out once they get in, it’s terribly unclear what their exact plans are. In a rational mind, the state of affairs for the deceased may be a problem that now has an infinite timeline to be solved, but for this grieving daughter, a tersely worded letter demanding her attention, is all it takes to really uproot hers and her partner’s lives for the coming season.
The storm blown isolated island presents an intriguing playground for the horror filmmaker. For Mickey Keating, who to their credit continues to make small horror features that vary broadly in theme, setting, and character, it is an undeniable tapestry of subdued cool hues and desaturated coloring that provides a sharp aesthetic appeal. There is something about a creeping nautical horror. What else do you need? Lovecraft is king for the slow burn water-logged movie and Offseason is no exception. While it’s framed with careful attention and often symmetrically shot and satisfying enough to look at, perhaps just not enough really goes on here.
See, we’re also held captive on the island. We don’t really know our characters. We know them inside this predicament. But not how they were before. Not what makes them tick or who they are outside their grief and captivity. It gives us a focused lens by which to experience them, while also making for rough sailing if we’re going to spend so much time with them, locked into this scenario that offers little outside interaction. Because we haven’t learned to care for them and do not know what really motivates them, being lost with them for the stretch of the whole runtime feels like a big ask.
It plays well initially. When they venture to the creepy local watering hole, the Sand Trap — look, they are not given any welcoming signs that their venture is a well-reasoned one — it clicks into place with the overall theme and approach herein. Because it is a laggy and slow-moving horror movie, we do experience some feeling of entrapment with the characters. Eventually, it’s not very positive for the viewer, as the murky palette and lack of characterization end up feeling like the film’s own sand traps. It does develop the story, eventually, and explore something of the mother’s own character, and what happened to her on the island. It tries to string along some overt horror elements and does produce an atmospheric appeal but we’re left just wishing for further engagement and reasons to really be hooked into this story. We know we’re not going to get out. We essentially know how stories like this go because we’ve watched a lot of horror movies. It will not go well and overlapping generational horror will prove a great burden to the grieving daughter. We’ve been here before.
Director Mickey Keating seems to have the right intentions in his horror movies. He is continually reshaping his mound of clay, expressing his genre-driven dreams in different and off-kilter ways between movies. Nothing quite comes together here but there is a decent hook insofar as these nautically themed Eldritch horrors are always just worth a couple hours for their settings and all the general reasons that they keep being used. The muted, murky aesthetic of the film and lack of true characters ultimately makes the slow burn of it all a dampened proposition. There is still good here, much of it emanating from Jocelin Donahue and the effort of her performance. If you’re up for exactly this setting and approach, you can do significantly worse, just be ready to stay for a while, you’re not getting out of here anytime soon.