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FEATURING: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Richard Brake, Jeremy Gardner
PLOT: After receiving a letter from the local cemetery caretaker, Marie returns to the island where her mother grew up.
COMMENTS: “Rhymes with ‘Smagon’.”
That’s all I’ve got. Because frankly, I have no idea what to tell you about this film apart from the following: it moves by quickly enough (which is a considerable relief) and it tells a mere shaving of the story it could have told. Offseason has all theelements: antiquated motifs (is this set in the ’80s?), madness, tales of a sea demon, and mysteriousness without much by way of reason. This final point is worth exploring, if only because, as in the far-better crafted tales from the Mythos Man himself, one can find something enjoyably unsettling in phenomena with no ready explanation. But Lovecraft’s unspeakable horrors all gelled into a gut-level understanding despite—or rather, owing to—the inexplicability of their horrifying events. Writer/director Mickey Keating’s movie feels more like a cobbling together of random eldritch parts into an ungainly stack of “Meh”.
When Marie Aldrich (wide-eyed and single-noted Jocelin Donahue) receives a letter informing her that her mother’s grave has been vandalized, she immediately heads to Lone Palm Island with her Gentleman (Husband? Ex-husband? Friend? Regardless, he’s played by Joe Swanberg, a poor man’s Philip Seymour Hoffman) and misses her first cue to head home. It’s a dark and stormy night when they arrive, and the bridge keeper (Richard Brake, a poor man’s Stephen McHattie) advises the out-of-towners that the island is “closed for the season.” This revelation is odd, but not so odd that Marie pays it any mind, and she insists on gaining entry. In the cemetery is a friendly Little Old Lady; surrounding the cemetery is a forest filled with blank-eyed townspeople. In town is the local drinking hole, “the Sand Trap” (its name yet another hint), in which a honky-tonk piano tune is being played, and whose patrons literally all stop and stare at Marie and Gentleman upon their entrance. Shifty-but-earnest Man With Boat (Jeremy Gardner, a poor man’s Michael Shannon) is there, and as his designation suggests, he has a boat—and is strangely insistent that Marie visit him later.
You get the gist. Keating somehow manages to overplay the surface goings on while ignoring virtually all of the interesting possibilities beneath. I am not giving too much away when I tell you I am very interested in the deal-with-sea-demon background for this island town. (This particular tidbit is dropped at the slightest prompt by any citizen one might encounter in the… off season.) But the story here spins out over an excessively prodding film score (the strings in particular seem to be shrieking, “Something Unsettling Is Going On!”) and features far too many of Marie’s wanderings through empty streets and semi-creepy back rooms. (I will admit, though, that I quite liked the amble through the historical society.) So yes, please: tell me more about the founding of Lone Palm Island. And spin me some yarns about the arduous existence faced by those who are blessed-cursed by the demon. Come to think of it, this premise was explored with actual tension, and humor, in The Endless. Go watch that again instead.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: