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Off Season
Defiant Studios

Movie Reviews

[SXSW ’21] ‘Offseason’ review: Surreal folk horror on a quiet island

Quiet, foggy, and creepy.

Offseason at times plays out like a video game, and the premise will remind many viewers of Silent Hill. Marie is brought to a mysterious island after receiving a letter stating that her mother’s grave has been vandalized. The letter advises that discretion is of the highest priority and that she must get to the island immediately. Little does she know that there’s nothing normal about this island, and that things are about to turn into a nightmare for her.

Before Marie and George even get to the island, things are strange. They’re told by the bridge keeper that they cannot cross the bridge, because the island will be closed until the spring – the last tourists have already left for the season. She shows him the letter, explaining that they are not tourists, and he lets them in.

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Once they get to the island, everything is immediately very weird. Marie and George can’t find the graveyard’s caretaker who sent the letter; the island is covered in a spooky fog; bizarre things are happening. Marie and George go into a pub, and the locals there are cartoonishly antagonistic, immediately stopping their conversations and music as soon as the pair of outsiders walk in the door.

[SXSW '21] ‘Offseason’ review: Surreal folk horror on a quiet island

From here, Offseason quickly dives into the drama. Marie tells George the story her mother told her about the island, which she’d dismissed as the ramblings of an old woman who was losing her sensibilities. But what if it’s true? She explains that her mother had begged her not to be buried on the island, but she was anyway. The use of flashbacks here is an interesting choice; Marie is already doing a lot of explaining, and the flashbacks serve to further show us what is being explained.

This is where Offseason most feels like a video game (and not just Silent Hill); the viewer is uncovering a mystery right along with Marie. Unlike a video game, though, we’re not coming across any clues and answers by ourselves. There’s a lot of exposition in both the flashbacks and the dialogue, and it’s an interesting choice. The story could have been unraveled slowly, or left vague until the very end, but instead, as Marie traverses the island looking for a way out, she comes across more answers.

While Offseason won’t leave you with any questions about the truth about the island and the mysterious residents, there are some questions left unanswered. The relationship between Marie and George is never clear – are they a couple, or old friends? The relationship between Marie and her mother, Ava, is also explored in flashbacks, but only superficially. Marie is referred to as a “problem child”, but why that is, or what her relationship with her mother was like, is never explored. Rather than at all focusing on the characters, Off Season treats the island itself like a character, and any “character development” revolves around the island’s secret.

[SXSW '21] ‘Offseason’ review: Surreal folk horror on a quiet island

Despite the lack of character development for Marie, Jocelin Donahue does an excellent job with the role. She’s extremely expressive, and her palpable anxiety adds to the suspense of Offseason. Richard Brake also gives a great performance as the bridge keeper, and most of the best scenes in the film involve him.

Offseason does a great job of maintaining a spooky, foggy, dreamy aesthetic. The soundtrack goes right along with it, with old-time music clashing against scary sound effects. Many of the moments that are meant to be scary will come across as goofy to some, and effective to others.

At one point Marie says “this is a nightmare” and Offseason does, at times, feel like that’s exactly what it is. Surreal, weird, and more spooky than scary, Offseason is a unique film that horror fans – and fans of horror video games – will enjoy.

SXSW is March 16 – March 20. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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