Horror maven Mickey Keating returns with a surreal thriller that employs an island setting to generate chills in “Offseason.” Scream queen Jocelin Donahue (“The House of the Devil”) plays a young woman summoned back to her mother’s burial site after someone desecrates the grave. She discovers a sealed-off community, creepy locals, an incoming storm, and plenty of supernatural phenomena.
Islands and horror go hand in hand. From Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” to John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and the so bad it’s good “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” trapped on land surrounded by water adds points to a film’s fear factor. Throw in the folk horror element to add impending doom and the story could write itself. How many times have you heard the line “This place is cursed” spoken by creepy locals? Get ready to hear it again.
Donahue, who earned modern-day scream queen status with a slew of roles that include “Doctor Sleep,” “I Trapped the Devil,” “Insidious: Chapter 2,” and “House of the Devil” plays Marie whose late mother Ava (Melora Walters) is buried in a small island community accessible only via a drawbridge. Walters appears in flashbacks imploring Marie not to bury her on the island. She also delivers a blood-curdling scream which rivals Marilyn Burns’ shrieks in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Ava’s tombstone has been destroyed. After being notified via letter, Marie with her boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) in tow, rushes to the island cemetery to survey the damage only to be greeted by a bridge sentinel played by Richard Brake who refuses to let them pass, citing the tourist town is closed until next season. Brake, a genre mainstay, was terrific as hellish Mr. Big in last year’s Blumhouse flick “Bingo Hell” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero.
After showing the bridge guardian the letter, — “please come at once your mother’s grave has been vandalized” — he lets the couple through while reminding them about the massive storm approaching the island. He also notes they only have a limited amount of time to get in and out before the drawbridge is raised until next year’s tourist season leaving them trapped.
As Marie navigates the deserted village and cemetery, she discovers a handful of locals throwing out serious “you don’t belong” vibes while darkness, a dense fog, and the approaching storm add serious dread to the surreal atmosphere. George wanders off leaving Marie to fend for herself as she uncovers the community’s secret that involves an ancient curse and a demon.
Keating creates a visually striking atmosphere (props to cinematographer Mac Fisken) as Marie is seen fleeing down the vacant streets in what feels like scenes from 70s horror classics including Philip Kaufman’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and the supernatural thriller “The Sentinel.” The eerie makeup and special effects make up for the lack of jump-scares as Keating goes for atmosphere over frights leading to a final chapter that pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft.
It’s been four years since Keating’s last horror outing “Psychopaths” which directly followed “Carnage Park.” The writer-director who got his start interning at Blumhouse continues to keep up the diversity by tackling the various horror sub-genres. “Offseason” is ripe with tension, brimming with disturbing visuals, and features another solid performance by Jocelin Donahue.
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*Originally reviewed March 13, 2022, for the theatrical opening