Sylvie’s husband has been convicted in a high-profile investment fraud case, and as the public becomes more enraged and his appeal trial approaches, Sylvie (Elizabeth Lee) escapes to a secluded beach house for some peace and quiet. Only, that’s not what’s waiting for her there, as early on it becomes apparent that something untoward is going on with the house. There’s the noises at night, the shadows under the bedroom door and the cabinets that open on their own.
Still, it’s better than the harassment coming at Sylvie via phone calls from families her husband screwed out of their life savings. Under an assumed identity, Sylvia strikes up first a friendship, than a romance, with local food delivery guy, and surfer, Deshawn (Kimani Shillingford). When not hanging out with him, she’s being warned about riptides from a strange fisherman (Dan Odell) on the beach, talking to the ghost of a young boy (Mchale Bright) and smoking weed (lots of weed). Unfortunately for Sylvie though, for as odd and strange as her life is, it only gets worse.
Katie Carman’s feature film Off Season is a drama with an extremely supernatural edge to it. While it has a lo-fi quality to it, the nature of the footage and the grittiness of the image lends to a very spooky and creepy experience. It’s a case where the visual shortcomings wind up becoming a stylistic success that only enhances the experience.
And the supernatural elements in the film could’ve had any number of explanations (I mean, Sylvie smokes a lot of weed), so it was interesting that the film commits to the route that it does. Without giving anything away, this isn’t a film that believes in some final twist, but instead, if you’re paying attention, the clues and direction for the narrative are all right there. Whether they will work for you, I can’t say, but I respect the commitment.
For me, once it becomes apparent the direction the film is heading, I did find it to be a little too straightforward for my own personal liking. Not that I needed some ridiculous cop-out twist, but I guess I wanted even more mystery. Then again, had it gone a more complicated route (perhaps attached, again, to the amount of weed she smokes and the person who supplied it to her), that may’ve felt too false. Then again, depending on how it was executed, it could’ve been incredible.
As our main guide through the story, much hinges on Elizabeth Lee’s performance as Sylvie, and she does an admirable job of it. There are moments when you really feel for Sylvie, and others when you despise her character so much that the supernatural torment feels justified. It’s hard to evoke both care and disgust without losing the audience, so credit must be given to Lee for walking that tightrope without falling over.
That said, the acting overall does stumble a bit, and there are some line readings that cause more than a few grimaces. The film still works, because the stumbles are momentary and not consistent, but when they happen you can’t help but notice. The editing also feels a little choppy sometimes though, again, the problems are not so pervasive as to make it painfully problematic.
In the end, Off Season has a gritty charm with a supernatural bonus. The narrative didn’t always come together for me, and I would’ve liked there to be more to it than what winds up being the explanation and resolution to the tale. Still, the film isn’t an uncomfortable or boring experience, and has enough merit within it for me to appreciate it a bit more than perhaps my criticism of the story would suggest.
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