A well-known horror trope no-no is not to accept a sudden invitation to go somewhere remote. In immediate family affairs, this may be hard to resist. Offseason begins with Marie (Jocelin Donahue) receiving news via a letter that her deceased mother’s grave site has been vandalized. With her boyfriend, George (Joe Swanberg), they drive to an eerie and abundantly foggy Florida island. Of course, things aren’t what they seem. At first, a lone bridge man (Richard Brake) won’t let them on the island, proclaiming it may be closed until spring. The graveyard caretaker is nowhere to be found, with the townspeople being no help to reveal his whereabouts. Director/writer Mickey Keating engulfs a place known for sunshine and palm trees with rain and heavy gray textures that may be reminiscent of Silent Hill.
It’s Offseason‘s bread and butter — drawing the viewer into a delirious, uncomfortable landscape. The plot gets revealed through certain flashbacks and straightforward conversations. Marie’s former movie star mother, Eva (Melora Walters), spent her last days in the clutches of psychological impairment. However, she was adamant about not going back to that island. Why do you ask? Because Ava tells Marie there’s a curse because the settlers made a pact with a demon, saving them from terrible weather and killing many. Could it just be an extravagant story from a woman on the last legs of life? Well, maybe? But a sudden altering of her will leads Marie down an unconventional path of family history. Keating and cinematographer Mac Fisken elect to frame this film with various wide shows to show how alone Marie and George are. Then, switching to close-ups at specific dialogue points with other characters heightens tension through certain reveals.
Putting this together with the effective violin-laden score of Shayfer James does the best job of making the audience feel uneasy in otherwise familiar scare setups. Marie forgets to tell George her mother’s story, and he understandably freaks out. In trying to leave the island, sudden barriers appear out of nowhere. A car crash leads to Marie being on her own to discover the secrets of this island and how it’s tied to her mother. Atmosphere and anticipation can only take a film so far. When Marie isn’t investigating empty shops and museums, she’s running away from townspeople who are locked in a sudden demonic trance.
A fisherman (Jeremy Gardiner) who portrays himself as a lone ally also follows the recognizable plot thread of having one chance off the island. Within the few flashbacks, there’s a dynamic hinted at concerning Eva’s early life and Marie’s proximity to it. It’s not explained much further than one passing comment, but could have enriched the backstory. Much of the second half of Offseason involves Marie escaping the gaze of white-eyed older people who have been stripped of any desire to leave. This film is exceptionally confident in the tone it wants to set, but not as much in the story that it desires to tell.