Movie Review: Beware the “Off Season” charms of this vacation island

There’s no horror movie that’s ever been made that wouldn’t benefit from a proper blood-curdling scream, delivered at the right moment by a character under life-threatening distress.

Screen veteran Melora Walters of “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Beneath the Leaves,” “Big Love” and scores of other credits, delivers a doozie of a shriek to open “Offseason.” Playing a vampy actress-mother, she tells her story to the camera, and perhaps her daughter, of running, of “never going back.”

But “Wherever I went,” she laments, “there they were!”

“Offseason” is about that daughter (Jocelin Donahue) being summoned back to the island where her mother is buried. Her tombstone’s “been vandalized.” A storm is ‘a’coming.” So she’d best make it to this remote, palm and palmetto-covered section of the southern coast, where the drawls are thick and the mystery thicker.

Boyfriend George (“Mumblecore” mainstay Joe Swanberg of “Drinking Buddies”) is her hapless, somewhat put-out driver for this emergency trip. He’s the one ready to turn back the moment they reach the drawbridge where the tender (Richard Brake) warns them it’ll be locked up — for the storm, and for the season — if they don’t hurry.

George, of course, is right. Anybody living along the southern coast knows drawbridges are locked “down” not up in storms. There’s something fishy about an island hellbent on being isolated during “off season.”

What ensues is a “Twilight Zone” waking nightmare, with apparitions in the saw palmetto forest and creepers all gathered at the Sand Trap, the local bar where we see just how “off” the inhabitants all seem and how unfriendly they most certainly are.

Daughter Marie finds herself on a lonely quest through the vacant village, along the spooky beach (the “storm” is an indifferent presence, mostly-forgotten), remembering her talks with her mother, scaring George to death with an account she never told him that her mother passed on to her. Mom “didn’t want to be buried here,” no how, no way.

George is, like the viewer, thrilled with this revelation and that it came too late to get them off the island, or keep him from agreeing to risk his neck and his late model Mercedes on whatever the hell Marie’s family’s mixed up in.

Writer-director Mickey Keating, while taking a step up from “Darling” and “Psychopaths,” can’t help but lean on pointless crutches like “chapter” headings for an 83 minute movie. We don’t need to be told a sequence is set in “Lone Palm” cemetery or “The Sand Trap,” or that a character’s about to meet “The Damned.”

And golly, there’s that “locked-up” bridge thing, no necessary to the plot but illogical on every level. Again, the storm bearing down on them is dispensed with. For that matter, who in the name of Jamie Lee Curtis would risk life, limb, boyfriend and Mercedes over a vandalized tombstone?

But Donahue (“Doctor Sleep”) makes a properly spooked heroine, antsy as she pokes around an empty village, puzzling out an answer to this mystery which early on she hints has to do with her fate.

Swanberg? He does “irked” and “ill-used” well. And the locals, including Jeremy Gardner as “The Fisherman,” may be horror tropes, but they’re interesting variations on a theme.

The occasional blood-curdling scream notwithstanding, “Offseason” is more chilling and gloomy than frightening. But the fog, the creepy old coots, the formidable drawbridge as an obstacle and Mama’s cryptic warnings and horror diva shrieks tip the scales. There’s a reason the locals call it “off season,” after all. “Stay away” sounds too hostile.

Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, Richard Brake, Jeremy Gardner and Melora Walters

Credits: Scripted and directed by Mickey Keating. A Shudder/RLJE release.

Running time: 1:23

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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