New this week streaming on Shudder and available on Blu-ray/DVD from RLJE Films next week!
OFF SEASON (2021)
Directed and written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Jeremy Gardner, Melora Waters, Richard Brake
Marie (Jocelin Donahue) gets word that her mother’s grave has been vandalized and she needs to come back to the remote island where her mother was born to sort it out. With her boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg), Marie drives to the only way onto the island, looked after by a creepy toll booth guy (Richard Brake). They are told the island is closed off for the season, but once toll booth creepy finds out who Marie is, she is allowed to pass. But once on the island, Marie and George find a fog filled town populated with people who are more than just a bit off.
On the surface, OFF SEASON is Mickey Keating’s ode to John Carpenter’s THE FOG with a lot of DEAD & BURIED tossed in for good measure. If you’ve seen those two films, you’re going to recognize a whole lot of familiar themes and imagery. Being a big fan of films that focus on a small town with a secret, I thought Marie’s quest to uncover the truth among these weird locals to be fascinating. Keating is able to capture that foreboding mystery of the seemingly endless depth of the fog covered streets. As with Carpenter’s THE FOG, the fog rolls in ominously and covers everything in a shroud of mystery as Marie wanders the streets alone, having lost George soon after they arrive.
While much of this film is Marie running around in the fog, it never gets old, partially because of the wonderfully moody setting and partially because Donohue is an entrancing actor to watch. It’s great to see Keating using so many of familiar faces in his films. It reminds me of Carpenter again, who often used the same cast for his various early works. Donohue always plays a good damsel in distress, screaming and looking concerned at all of the right times. Joe Swanberg is always fun to watch as well. A writer/director himself he knows just the right amount of schleppy-ness to put into his George character, who is nothing like a strong leading man and more like dead weight weighing Marie down on her journey to discover her past. THE BATTERY’s Jeremy Gardner is fun as a rowdy, drunk local who is willing to help Marie in her quest. And Melora Waters is always great when she’s allowed to be nuts on camera. Here she plays Marie’s mentally disturbed mother who rants about the horrors of the island in flashbacks. The opening monologue focusing on Waters whispering about the island is a unique and creepy way to start the film. Finally, I can’t get enough of Richard Brake. His character of the bridge man could have been cliched, but he really throws in a lot of grizzled nuances as someone who may not like his job, but he will not waver in making sure no one gets in or out of the island.
The problem with OFF SEASON is that it feels very familiar. Donohue, while beautiful and talented, has played this role before in the “Father’s Day” segment in the anthology HOLIDAYS. She seems distant here. Her relationship with George is vague and she really doesn’t seem to be very concerned about him when he goes missing. That said, Swanberg really doesn’t play George as a character many people would be concerned about losing. Waters is always manic in her performances, so I’ve seen that side of her before. Gardner is always as strong an actor and personality as he is a director, so it’s great to see him do what he does here, but again, he’s not straining himself in terms of a character. Looking at the entire cast, Brake is the one who seems to have done the extra work to make this role different than what he’s done before.
Yes, OFF SEASON is an homage to a great film, THE FOG, yet distinguishes itself with enough Lovecraftian oddity to make it distinct. It is very evident that this is a movie made during the pandemic. Aside from the bar scene where the locals are all fraternizing in the same room, much of the film is focused on Donohue walking alone in the dark or talking to other actors standing a distance apart from them. The scares still work. The mood is prevalent. But for some reason this film felt distracted from the story itself and I couldn’t help but wonder if making it during the pandemic was a factor in it all. There are some really great scenes where Marie realizes the horrors she has found herself trapped in and I loved the climax of the scene where the monster is revealed, though it is extremely shadowed and subtle. It all makes for a quietly potent story.
There’s nothing wrong with a film feeling familiar. In fact, with so many films attempting to do something drastically different and failing, it’s a good thing. I feel that this might have been a rushed production and though I was never bored, I feel some might read the film as spinning its wheels a bit in order to get to the admittedly powerful ending. OFF SEASON is another strong, but restrained film from Mickey Keating. It’s got a lot of what you’ve seen before but does it in a compelling and creative way that made me look past all that.