Shudder’s latest original, Offseason, is a film that stretches its low budget. The result is an engaging, deeply atmospheric film with some pretty cool Lovecraftian elements, too. It’s also a film that deals with profound grief after a daughter struggles with the aftermath of her movie star mom’s death.
Generally, the plot of Offseason is straightforward. However, the ending is rather ambiguous regarding the fate of the lead, daughter Marie (Jocelin Donahue). Is she dead, or was she left alive at the whims of the island’s soul-sucking demon?
In attempting to unpack the ending, there are some major spoilers below.
Offseason’s Island Is a Prison
Written and directed by Mickey Keating, the film was shot in New Smryna Beach, Florida. Keating makes great use of this atmosphere. Fog and mist creep along the island as palm trees bend to the wind. There’s an eerie sense of dread throughout the runtime, especially once Marie gets trapped on the island after they raise the bridge until spring. There’s no way in or out.
Meanwhile, something’s off about the townspeople. They possess zombie-like personalities. There are also some well-known indie horror stars playing smaller characters that populate the sinister location. Jeremy Gardner plays a strange fisherman. Larry Fessenden makes a cameo as H. Grierson. While not given a ton to do, each actor makes the best use of his role, Gardner especially. He can play crazy well.
These bizarre townspeople eventually pose a threat. Marie only returned to the island to bury her famous mom Ava (Melora Walters). Yet, something seems off about this. Marie is convinced that the will was changed because, prior to her death, Ava pleaded with her daughter to never allow her body to return to the island. Further, in a haunting opening sequence, Ava gives a monologue about nightmares caused by the very location she fears. Eventually, these horrific dreams broke her spirit. Near the end of the opening monologue, Ava says, “You’ll have to accept your nightmares, like an old friend. I’ve come to a place where I welcome them with open arms.” This is then followed by Ava’s blood-curdling scream.
If Ava never wanted to return to the island, then why does her will indicate she wants to be burred there? Why are the townspeople so insistent that Marie stays, and why do they pose a threat? The film gives clear answers to these questions and establishes its own Lovecraftian mythology of sorts.
The Island’s Demon
Luckily, Offseason isn’t a film that raises questions without eventually reaching some clear conclusions and answers. Not long into the runtime, Marie learns a bit about the island’s history. It turns out early settlers made a deal with a demon, a man who “crawled out of the water.” In exchange for their safety and reprieve from storms, the settlers traded their souls. It turns out that Marie’s ancestors participated in this deal with the devil. Hence why Ava returned to the island in death and why Marie can’t leave. They even have other relatives trapped there too, long thought dead.
Eventually, the demon, while possessing another character, George Darrow (Joe Swanberg), explains his power to Marie. He says, “The people here are my fingers. The island is the palm of my hand. In life, they have free will. In death, they belong to me.” In other words, everyone on the island is enslaved to the demon, due to a pact made centuries prior. They can’t leave, and just maybe, they’re already dead, mere husks that resemble their former selves. That would explain why Marie keeps seeing them with white eyes and pale skin. They’re soulless vessels. When the bridge pulls up until spring, the islanders can’t leave.
Marie’s Fate Explained
In one of the most harrowing sequences, Marie sees Ava again. The former actress stands on the beach beneath a black and stormy sky, as thunder cracks. The mother and daughter are never granted a proper reunion because the demon pulls Ava’s possessed body into the ocean. Left to grieve, Marie is then surrounded by all the townspeople, their eyes white. In a moment, Marie’s face flashes on the screen, too, her eyes just as spooktacular. Clearly, the island and demon won.
So what does this mean exactly? Did the demon claim Marie’s soul? The ending is slightly ambiguous. In the following scene, Marie is shown, working behind the counter of a flower shop, owned by her deceased grandmother, apparently, another victim. A young couple comes in, praising the island, talking about how they never want to leave. It has a strange and uncanny power over them. Marie makes it clear that they need to leave. She knows once the bridge goes up, the island will possess two more souls.
So why is Marie seemingly alive months after she’s shown on the beach, tormented by the demon? Well, I’d venture to guess that like the rest of the islanders, Marie can’t leave. The demon succeeded in possessing her. She’s able to live what appears to be a normal life, but she’s trapped. She’ll be there for eternity, along with the rest of the group that she kept seeing around town, thwarting her escape. It’s a unique type of hell.
This is made clearer during a late flashback when Ava explains that she once had a brother who drowned. It turns out the brother was the fisherman. Because he’s also part of the family that made a deal with the demon, he’s stuck on the island. He even tries to help Marie escape at one point, but to no avail. He, like Ave and Marie, is trapped, due to the pact. While it looks like Marie has returned to her normal self by the film’s conclusion, she hasn’t. She’s imprisoned. It’s why she implores the young couple to leave before the bridge closes. She doesn’t want them to suffer the same fate.
Overall, Offseason has its chilling moments. Donahue carries much of the film on her shoulders and succeeds. She turns in a strong performance. Keating does a fine job establishing a sense of foreboding and the feeling that Marie will never be able to leave the island. It’s also cool to see well-known horror names fill some of the smaller roles, adding another dimension to the island.
Offseason comes to Shudder on June 10. For more on the streaming service’s latest content, check out my weekly Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.