Judge David Johnson laments this missed opportunity. Deserted New England coastal tourist communities during the winter are indeed a spooky venue (he knows, he used to live in a winter rental).
A ghost story.
This accolade from the disc case, given here in its original spelling, says it all: "The most haunting film since The Shinning!"
Facts of the Case
A dating couple escapes the financial instability of New York and retreats to coastal Maine to spend the winter. Rick (Don Wood) is a struggling playwright, looking for that creative spark that will propel him to stage fame. His loyal girlfriend Kathryn (Christina Campenella) supports his dreams, willing even to live in a dumpy motel and work as a librarian's assistant to bring in some money.
But their optimistic outlook quickly deteriorates as it becomes clear that their motel room may be haunted. Kathryn is tormented by visions and bizarre happenings (her mattress is mysteriously stained blood-red). Meanwhile, Rick gradually turns into a super-bastard.
There is a mystery behind all of this, and Kathryn, along with her eccentric neighbor (Angus Scrimm, Phantasm), seeks to unravel it before she is driven completely insane.
The Off Season is a decent-looking, well-shot low-budget psychological thriller, but man, is it boring. Regrettably, any nifty ideas that writer-director James Felix McKenney was kicking around are completely deep-sixed by the geriatric pacing of the film and an unsatisfying resolution.
However, let's buck up and look first at what worked. As I mentioned, The Off Season looks pretty good. McKenney employs some decent camera work to frame his scenes (despite some gratuitousness that we'll get to later). Most of the film takes place in one motel room, and it's a miracle they were able to squeeze all the equipment in; but they did, and the end result is that the movie looks nicer than it should for the tiny budget that certainly funded it. McKenney also has a decent sense of how to pull off the scares. While there are way too few of them (again, to be discussed later), the jump moments he manufactures are effective. And, as is the trend in horror films these days, you can expect the token "creepy-ass brunette" to show up a few times. It's effective, all the same.
So the director has a good eye. Unfortunately, it's the narrative execution that needs some serious work. While McKenney can certainly set up some nice-looking shots, he tends to dwell on them too long. One sequence in particular stands out: When the couple first arrives at the motel, there's an interminable shot of the two of them following the landlady to their room. The sequence is filmed from overhead, with the camera rigged on some kind of line, slowly panning. It took forever and slowed the story progression down, the only reason being, I figure, to show off what surely must have been a pain-in-the-butt camera setup. Authentically tense moments are also diluted by endless scenes of dialogue.
I gave McKenney props for his jump scenes, and I'll stick by that. Too bad they happen so infrequently. The story itself is far from captivating, so the slow-moving scenes may just be necessary to pad the run time. The first half of the film focuses on the evaporation of Kathryn and Rick's relationship and its apparent connection to the on-and-off supernatural oddities that Kathryn stumbles upon. Unfortunately, the dynamic was too one-sided for me to care about the couple. Kathryn was a selfless, giving, supportive girlfriend willing to sleep on a blood-stained mattress, and Rick was a straight-up dick, wanting only to focus on his career. And what a whiner this guy was! Further hampered by Don Wood's over-the-top performance, this character setup didn't work at all. Eventually the film comes to focus entirely on Kathryn and her hunt for the secret behind the weird goings-on in her motel room. The Off Season takes a Nancy Drew turn, but the payoff to the enigma is anticlimactic and nonsensical.
In the technical department, this disc receives passing grades. A clean
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer reflects the digital medium in which it
was shot. Detailing is sharp and the colors are strong. A 5.1 mix accompanies,
but doesn't sound any different from the alternate, shallow 2.0 stereo mix.
The Off Season's paralyzing pace and unrewarding narrative overwhelm the few perks (some isolated scares and a nice look), making this a ghost story to forget.
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Scales of Justice
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
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