★★★★☆

Mickey Keating’s Offseason is an atmospheric, supremely confident horror show. The director conjures an oppressive air of creeping fear and dreamlike dread, that’s as much an ode to Southern Gothic melodrama as it is the traditions of folk horror.

There’s the sense watching Keating’s sixth feature that he is on the road to greatness and that his best years are very much ahead. For a while now, he’s operated as a kind of ‘best kept secret’, an indie helmer crafting memorable genre pieces and picking up fans along the way in cult-like fashion. What he hasn’t had yet is a breakout hit. However, after seeing Offseason, that appears very much to be brewing. It would be a damn shame if it didn’t.

After the death of her mother, Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) returns to Lone Palm, a small island in the Florida Keys. As soon as she arrives, along with husband George (Joe Swanberg), the summer over, the islanders setting in for hurricane season, things do not feel right at all. Phantoms are spied among the palm trees, there’s a heavy atmosphere the stormy weather cannot explain, and the residents are more than a little kooky. Before you can shout ‘It’s a trap!’ at the screen, like General Akbar in Return of the Jedi, Marie and George find themselves getting deeper and deeper into a shocking mystery, one tied to Marie’s recently deceased mother (a fantastically weird performance by Melora Walters).

Keating has always been a dab hand at shaping his influences into captivating and lively forms. H.P. Lovecraft’s fish-themed tale of terror, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, is undoubtedly a touchstone, as is F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, with the director referencing the landmark German Expressionist classic’s images of forlorn and windswept beaches under heavy skies, and the dissociative vibes of Carnival of Souls appear to have informed the mood of the piece, also.

All this is discreet, neatly packaged, rather than in your face film-school-brat posturing. If you get these film and literary references, it’s grand. But if you don’t, it’s all good too, because Offseason works of its own accord. With its freaky storyline, shocking turns, nightmare tone and cadaverous visuals, the director here is having a blast, and it shows on screen.

Arrow Video FrightFest runs from Thurs 26th August to Monday 30th at the Cineworld Empire, Leicester Square. The digital event, Best of the Fest, runs from 1st to 5th September. For tickets, digital event and Covid 19 health policy information, click here.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio