The Movie Waffler SXSW 2021 Review - OFFSEASON | The Movie Waffler

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SXSW 2021 Review - OFFSEASON

offseason review
A woman finds herself trapped on the sinister island where her mother was buried against her wishes.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mickey Keating

Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Melora Walters, Richard Brake, Joe Swanberg, Jeremy Gardner


Someone once famously said that all you need to make a good horror movie is an out of season tourist trap and a fog machine. That's the quote, right? Well, it should be. A slew of recent British horror movies have employed off-season seaside resorts as their setting, mining the unique empty eeriness of such locales. Now with writer/director Mickey Keating's Offseason, we're seeing this idea employed to great effect across the Atlantic.

offseason review

The setting for Keating's film is a winner from the off, an island off the East Coast that's teeming with holidaymakers every summer but shuts down for the rest of the year as the Atlantic Ocean dishes out a severe beating, making it close to uninhabitable.


It's on the first day of the off-season that our story begins, with Marie (Jocelin Donahue) travelling to the island having received a letter from the caretaker of the cemetery that houses the grave of her mother, Ava (Melora Walters), a once popular actress who went crazy before her death. It seems the grave has been desecrated, and apparently there's no way to contact the cemetery apart from driving out there.

offseason review

After ignoring the warning of the creepy guy (Richard Brake) who controls the bascule bridge that grants access to the island, Marie finds the cemetery deserted with no sign of the caretaker. Her mother's grave has indeed been tampered with, its tombstone smashed in two. Enquiries among the local populace, most of whom are gathered in a local tavern straight out of An American Werewolf in London, lead to a dead end, and so Marie and her driving companion George (who may be her husband? I didn't quite pick up on this exact dynamic) decide to leave the island. But wouldn't you know, they find it impossible to do so, as the previously straight road leads to a literal dead end. It seems something doesn't want Marie to leave the island.


Keating is known for making movies that proudly wear their influences on their sleeves. His 2015 psychological thriller Darling riffs on Polanski's "Apartment trilogy", while his 2016 film Carnage Park is a nod to Peter Watkins' Punishment Park. With Offseason, the influences are numerous. Most obvious seems to be Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz' cult masterpiece Messiah of Evil, which similarly saw its heroine travel to a remote coastal town to investigate an incident involving a parent. Like The Wicker Man, we quickly get the sense that Marie has been lured to the island for some nefarious purpose. The film's Lovecraftian elements are heavily reminiscent of John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, while with their milky pupils, the possessed islanders are straight out of Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy. With the entire island shrouded in a thick shawl of mist, it's impossible not to think of Carpenter's The Fog, and there's a moment of body-horror straight out of The Thing. And it all wraps up with a tip of the hat to Jacques Tourneur.

offseason review

Keating takes all these influences and homages and mixes them into a creamy chowder with a flavour of its own. Offseason stands out from its horror contemporaries with its resolute focus on sustaining mood and atmosphere. Jump scares are entirely absent, and any plot is kept to a minimum, quickly dispensed by a brief speech from Marie that gives us just enough background to figure out what she may be dealing with here. This is old school horror, with a fog machine working overtime, mist creeping around tombstones and hanging vines as telephones ring tauntingly in the distance. Like Carpenter, Keating makes great use of the empty space of his widescreen frame, keeping us constantly on edge looking for figures in the shadows and mist.

Man, I'm a sucker for this stuff. When it comes to horror, I couldn't care less about plot, which is why so many mainstream American horror movies bore me to tears. Just drop your protagonist into a creepy netherworld and terrorise them with as many cinematic tools as you can muster, and I'm a happy horror hound. Keating does just that, and to great effect, trapping us in a hell of his creation along with his terrified but resolute heroine. If that's your cup of tea, you'll be drawn to the eerie delights of Keating's terrifying tourist trap.

Offseason
 plays online at the SXSW Film Festival from March 17th to 21st.

2021 movie reviews