It’s been said that there’s no such thing as an overnight success – that the inventor whose crafty device eventually lands him (or her) on history’s map toiled away for years in seclusion before being blessed with discovery – and I believe that’s true. Life can be random – sometimes a genuinely great idea gets fully realized in its time – but more often than not progress is marked by years. Blinks of inspiration are great – when they happen – but time is a harsh mistress.
And why shouldn’t it be that way? Something that can be revered in the moment can just as easily be forgotten or dismissed. Societies have a way of evening the playing field, pushing back against what they could, should, and would notice because we’re given so much to look at every single minute of our lives. Those contributions that are truly meaningful have a way of scratching, gnawing, and fighting their way to the top of time’s trash heap … and cult films shouldn’t have it any other way.
I suspect the same fate may befall Offseason. It’s a good film – not great – that showcases some rather average performances all set against the backdrop of the sleepy little seaside tourist trap. Though it’s constructed like a genuine haunted house story, the flick never quite percolates anything other than otherworldly, supernatural funk wrapped around the framework of a mother/daughter story and an old sea legend that may or may not be true.
Still, there might be enough substance in here to, eventually, keep small audiences coming back a year or two later … much in the same way those tourists sneak back to those haunts they visited yesterday. Should that happen enough, then the film may rise to the level of ‘cult,’ which I could argue it deserves. It shares a lot of similarities to 1981’s Dead & Buried – a feature that has earned its offbeat status – but the significant difference is that the older film leaves nothing left for misinterpretation, whereas Offseason’s final moment just kinda/sorta lingers …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“Upon receiving a mysterious letter that her mother’s grave site has been vandalized, Marie quickly returns to the isolated offshore island where her late mother is buried. When she arrives, she discovers that the island is closing for the offseason with the bridges raised until spring, leaving her stranded. With one strange interaction with the local townspeople after another, Marie soon realizes that something is not quite right in this small town. She must unveil the mystery behind her mother’s troubled past in order to make it out alive.”
For all intents and purposes, Offseason is exactly the kind of film that sounds like it’s going to be an exciting and wild ride, but it isn’t.
The problem with his script, however, is that he does absolutely nothing with it.
Oh, he populates it with plenty of creepy townies to give Marie (played by the lovely Jocelin Donahue) a vivid experience, and yet what should’ve been truly frightening ends up feeling a bit more confusing too often. Keating gives this coastal berg a mythical background tied to ‘the man who crawled out of the sea’ and then, largely, ignores it (budget constraints?) in order to craft plenty of long takes where we and Marie stare at the sheer nothingness draped in cinematic fog. So, yes, it all looks good, suitably quaint and equally eerie, but it all leads to the predictable showdown on a bridge (of all places!) wherein we learn that the usual curse must be fulfilled … or else.
To make matters worse, Marie doesn’t always act out with a true sense of purpose or logic. After waking up from a minor car crash only to learn her boyfriend/driver is gone from the vehicle, she gives up searching for him or his body after a few moments and simply runs back to town. She then spends the bulk of her screen time never authentically looking for this seemingly important person in her life, only to be surprised and unmoved when he merely shows up waiting for her on the bridge in the second half. (Guys, I don’t know about you, but that’s not a relationship I’d want to be in.)
While it might be easy to dismiss Marie’s lack of concern because she’s suddenly found herself in a Horror movie, I’ve never taken that bait. Though characters are tied intrinsically to the logic of the feature, they also are required to behave in a fashion that makes sense; otherwise, there’s no way for us to identify with them. Lacking that connection, their plight means little or nothing – well, except for a few effective jump scares that come with the packaging – and we’re detached non-participants when any movie’s purposes is to reel us in.
Because I couldn’t identify with Marie, her journey was just that: her journey. I didn’t take it with her. I watched from afar. I marveled from a distance. I wasn’t drawn in. Instead, I sat on the sidelines crying out for her to do things differently … or logically. (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 created an entire TV phenomenon out of some sarcastic knuckleheads doing just that same thing; and I can hear them merrily torching Offseason now!) But that’s the canard so easily attached to horror films – no behaves reasonably. If they did, then they wouldn’t be here.
Though the picture has some teeth, I can see why it never quite took a bite out of the box office. The struggle here is far more psychological in nature than it is visual. Its performances are all a bit predictable if not expected (you’ve seen one creepy townie, you’ve seen them all). I think – like heading out for a vacation destination – most people see where they’re headed, and this picture is no different. Though occasionally effective – also like that dream vacation – there’s still an awful lot of fluff.
Offseason (2021) was produced by Defiant Studios, Kodiak Pictures, and Sunset Junction Entertainment. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable RLJE Films. As for the technical specifications? The film looks and sounds very good; it’s probably worth a word of caution to let some audiences know that those extra creepy sounds you’re hearing on the soundtrack are intentionally part of the frightening experience. As for the special features? Alas … there isn’t a single one … and that’s a big miss so far as this film junkie is concerned. If you don’t care enough to give us something extra, then why should we? Sigh.
If I’m being kind (and I do so often try), the Offseason (2021) might be the kind of film that requires a passage of years to truly find its audience. Director Keating goes to great lengths (maybe too much?) to establish a particular milieu in which to place his scary movie, and, ultimately, audiences will likely struggle with whether or not the measly payoff for their patience was good enough. So far as this reviewer is concerned, it wasn’t … but diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.
In the interest of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJE Films and Shudder provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Offseason (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.