Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A devilish blend of It Follows and Silent Hill, Mickey Keating’s SXSW film Offseason emerges as one of 2021’s best horror offerings. The haunting visuals are biting and effective. The film is split into chapters; flawless scripting weaves out a complex web of mythology. It tows the line carefully between showing and telling, never revealing more than necessary to pack a punch. The strength of the most tense sequences are any horror fan’s white whale: Offseason is genuinely scary.

Marie (Jocelin Donahue) receives a mysterious letter, informing her that someone has vandalized the grave of her mother, Ava (Melora Walters). Marie immediately sets off for the site of Ava’s burial, the remote island, Lone Palm Beach, with boyfriend George (Joe Swanberg) along for the ride. From the second they arrive, a man on the bridge (Richard Brake) warns them he’ll be sealing up the island for the season later that night. Things take a turn for the weird after the two get lost in the fog while hunting for the cemetery’s caretaker. Racing against time, Marie tries desperately to decipher her situation and escape the island’s deadly grip.

Lone Palm Beach is fully-formed in an exciting way, right down to its watery horrors beachside. Cracked mannequins, abandoned museums, and dilapidated buildings, oh my! The fog drenches the film in dread, almost as soon as they arrive in this bizarre town. Strange characters (and unconventional locales) pepper the world as if they walked straight out of Twin Peaks. An early scene where Marie and George ask for the caretaker at a local restaurant, The Sand Trap, is a perfect sample of the town’s unnerving vibe. One man answers them: “Did you check the cemetery?” He proceeds to laugh them out of the spot, accompanied by an entire building full of hysterical locals. Even the soundtrack sent chills down my spine: creepy tune “Turn Around, Look at Me” by The Vogues punctuates a mood-setting driving sequence.

Performances are excellent across the board, with mother/daughter Ava and Marie being the most captivating. Jocelin Donahue delivers a knockout as our complicated and sympathetic lead, Marie. Nightmarish visuals are grotesque, yet never devolve into overly gory. The reveals about the island of Lone Palm Beach are shocking and consistent with what we learn as each chapter plays out. This is thought-provoking, cerebral, and exciting horror. It doesn’t aim for flimsy jump scares; rather, Offseason is more interested in crafting a complicated tale that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

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