Ava Aldrich (Melora Walters) insisted on her deathbed that her daughter Marie (Jocelin Donahue) should not let her be buried on the island where she was born … but the terms of her legal will dictate that this is exactly what happens. At the end of the tourist season, a day or so before the bridge goes up and the island shuts down, Marie receives a typed letter from a caretaker saying that Ava’s grave has been vandalised and Marie’s presence is urgently required. With her boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg), who isn’t exactly delighted by this sudden road trip, Marie makes the long journey, gets past a surly bridge-keeper (Richard Brake), and reaches the island … which turns out to be one of those hard places to leave, with locals who laugh at outsiders who don’t know the big secret (Marie actually does – she just doesn’t believe it), a storm shutting everything down, strange people loitering in the graveyard followed by a strange absence of people everywhere else, and a single road that still shifts when the couple try to leave.
Writer-director Mickey Keating (Pod, Darling, Psychopaths) crafts intense, genuinely creepy weird tales with throbbing undercurrents of relatable pain – one brief scene of Marie on the receiving end of her mother’s psychological abuse tells us enough about both characters to power through the rest of the picture (Walters remains a powerhouse performer, too rarely cast these days) … and the way George doesn’t carp or criticise Marie as he goes along with her doomed quest while inwardly seething is as aggressive as an actual shouting row would be. There’s an obvious Lovecraftian feel here, with the Innsmouth-like island community and a sense of vast malignities under the sea – which puts Offseason in with a few other recent movies (Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House, Chad Ferrin’s The Deep Ones, Moorhead and Benson’s The Endless) that have gone to the same well. But it also harks back in its general tone to such 1970s watery creepy horrors as Messiah of Evil and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, especially in its privileging of scariness over the easily explicable.
Donahue, cementing her retro-horror heroine rep from The House of the Devil, is menaced and disturbed by all manner of quietly upsetting apparitions as she is systematically cut off from any support system – starting with the death of her mother and most literally when she is stuck on an island that has raised its bascule bridge. What’s unusual is that Marie gets to have a conversation with a representative of the already-damned – a vivid cameo from the croak-voiced, impressively haggard Branch – and argue about the nature of the salvation on offer from something described only as a demon. Jeremy Gardner, director of The Battery and After Midnight, is one of the less unwelcoming locals, set apart from some alarming cameo players (April Linscott especially) and brilliantly-marshalled extras (the dancing mocking guy in the Sand Trap restaurant is a memorably funny-horrible touch). Keating is a major genre talent.