Blow the Man Down (2019)
Written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
Produced by Alex Scharfman, Drew Houpt, Tim Headington, Lia Buman
Cinematography by Todd Banhazi
Edited by Marc Vives
Music by Brian McOmber, Jordan Dykstra
Secret Engine, Tango Entertainment
Distributed by Amazon Studios
(1:31) Amazon Prime
Here’s one nobody’s talking about, other than crime fiction writer Eric Beetner, who tweeted about it a couple of days ago. (Many thanks, Eric.) Blow the Man Down is a crime/noir/dark comedy that’s been compared to Fargo, but it’s not just another Coen brothers imitation. No, there’s far more going on than that…
Blow the Man Down begins with a chorus of fishermen (who actually sound quite good), a framing device that also acts as a sort of Greek chorus. The lyrics of their sea shanties come across as oddly relevant to either what’s just happened or what’s about to happen in the movie. (And the lyrics to these songs, like the film’s title, can be taken in more than one way.)
After a rousing chorus or two, we leave the fishermen to drop in on a funeral, that of Mary Margaret Connolly, who ran a family-owned fish shop in the small village of Easter Cove, Maine. Mary Margaret’s daughters Pris (Sophie Lowe, right) and her sister Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) discover that mom died leaving them no money, but tons of debt. Pris, the older, more practical sister, can’t wrap her head around how they’re going to be able make any money and save the house, while Mary Beth just wants to go off to college and leave the dying town of Easter Cove, which, despite its name, contains no painted eggs or cute bunnies, and some of the characters in this film certainly hope there won’t be any resurrections.
Needing a shot of something to calm her nerves, Mary Beth drifts down to the local dive where she meets a sleazy-looking drifter named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). The two decide to leave the bar and let’s just say things get out of hand and we don’t see Gorski anymore (at least not living), but his presence (or lack of it) presents Mary Beth with a huge problem. She’s forced to enlist the help of her big sister in… uh, cleaning up a mess and hiding it from the local cops, one of whom (Will Brittain) has his eye on Pris.
If this is all the movie had given us, it probably would’ve been enough, but co-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy (who also wrote the film) have higher aspirations. They’re not imitating the Coen brothers, they’re creating their own world their own way, and that way includes some absolutely amazing characters to add to this particular chowder recipe.
Enter Enid Devlin (Margo Martindale), owner and operator of the Ocean View, which sounds like a B&B, but places an emphasis on the first B, if you know what I mean. Enid is ready, willing, and able to fulfill that certain need that sailors, locals, or anybody might have. But some of Enid's employees - including a girl named Alexis (Gayle Rankin) - aren’t happy with either their pay or working conditions. Yet Enid’s been in the business so long, she’s seen everything and knows how to handle it. (She can also visit any house in Easter Cove and know exactly where the liquor bottles are hidden.)
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a trio of mature women (June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, and Annette O’Toole) who know all about everyone in town, not only Enid, but also the truth behind Pris and Mary Beth’s mother. Easter Cove may have an obvious generational divide, but the town also has its share of dark secrets and we aren’t exactly sure how all of this is going to converge. Does this almost puritanical trio of women contrast with the lifestyle of Enid in order to give the sisters two choices for the future, or do they harken back to their own days of idealism and recklessness? Are these women to play the roles of mentors or judges in the sisters' lives?
Character is the number one priority in Blow the Man Down and the younger performers Lowe and Saylor certainly hold their own against the more seasoned cast members. Employing far more than passable New England accents, these actors make us believe they’re the people they portray. More importantly, they seem authentic, making the same decisions (including mistakes) we might make in their places. The sisters’ relationship feels real and unforced. We buy into it and don’t feel like we’ve paid for halibut and have been given canned tuna instead.
Blow the Man Down strikes just the right balance of comedy and pure terror - not one of those films where you know nothing’s really at stake for the characters, that we’re really here just for the laughs and not the messy stuff. No, this isn’t like that. Cole and Krudy show remarkable restraint in not giving us violence that’s too graphic or sexuality that’s too sleazy. Instead, they deliver a refreshing little noir gem that satisfies on every level. You can find Blow the Man Down on Amazon Prime right now.
Photos: Amazon, Indiewire, Slashfilm, NPR, Sacramento Press, WBUR, Solzy at the Movies