To be fair, Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue, The House of the Devil, Doctor Sleep) and her partner George Darrow (Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies, You’re Next) aren’t on an actual vacation. When Marie receives a letter that the grave of her recently deceased former-starlet mother (Melora Walters, Magnolia) has been vandalized, she and George venture to the remote island community just as the last tourist has gone home and it’s shutting down for the winter. Soon they find themselves in a near-abandoned town populated by hostile locals, roads that lead to nowhere, and all manner of full-on nightmare fuel from which there is no escape.
Offseason borrows generously from Lovecraftian horror, in particular The Shadow Over Innsmouth, synthesizing that tone and aesthetic with shades of John Carpenter. The creepy, isolated seaside town oozes eerie atmosphere and ominous, unsettling vibes. Darkness covers everything and an omnipresent haze of fog creates a dreamy, gauzy, unreal sensation that permeates each frame. What begins as merely uncomfortable and strange quickly becomes a twisted purgatory full of curses, demons, terror, and a tangled mystery with Marie’s mother smack in the middle.
At the core of the horror, the emotional center of the story revolves around Marie’s troubled relationship with her mother. The matriarch’s final days, where she was in and out of lucidity with Marie at her bedside, hold the key to the truth of what’s going on, and Donahue is a fantastic lead. She’s damaged and torn, still grieving and trying to reconcile this person who was horrifically cruel all of her life but also still her mother, whom she loved. Add to that, the variety of horrors, mystifying reveals, and dreadful obstacles she encounters on her way to the truth, she gives a deft, quiet, powerful turn as both a daughter and horror movie heroine.
Donahue definitely has the most to do in her role, with everyone else providing minor functions that service her narrative. Walters, in a much smaller role, also shines, however, shifting between loving mother, vindictive, egotistical star, and the confused fear that comes with losing yourself to the void. Swanberg plays George with an affable aplomb, with just enough edge to hint at strife within the couple. Horror favorites like Richard Brake and Jeremy Gardner show up for a scene here and there to add layers of genre texture. They’re fun little turns, but basically glorified cameos.
Offseason follows a pattern for Keating. With movies like Psychopaths, Carnage Park, Pod, and others, he takes a specific horror subgenre and puts his own spin on the proceedings. This represents his take on the Erdrich terror/ancient ones tale. Even if it is a bit sparse and spare at times, the result offers a tense, brisk, gripping tale of seaside fright, primordial chills, and sinister small-town mystery. [Grade: B]