Blow the Man Down (United States, 2020)March 20, 2020
Blow the Man Down is a grounded mystery that relies on
old-fashioned movie elements like atmosphere, character development, and
narrative arc without needing crutches like fast editing, frenetic action sequences,
and visual clutter. Although there are some structural and pacing issues, the film
as a whole works by doing David Lynch’s favorite trick: finding the rot
underlying the seemingly placid exterior of small town America.
Easter Cove, Maine is a rugged northern New England fishing village
where the folks are hardy and the weather is rough. The town is unofficially
ruled by a small group of four women whose innocent features belie the power
they wield. One of those four, Mary Margaret Connolly, has recently died, so the
remaining three – Susie Gallagher (June Squibb), Doreen Burke (Marceline
Hugot), and Gail Maguire (Annette O’Toole) – continue without her. Their first
goal is to shut down brothel owner Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale), whose
business had been protected by Mary Margaret and who won’t go gently into the
stormy Maine night.
Meanwhile, Mary Margaret’s daughters, Priscilla (Sophie
Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), are finding it hard to make ends meet.
Faced with mounting debts and the reality of losing the house, they try to cope
as best they can. For Mary Beth, that means going out, getting drunk, and heading
home with Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a guy she meets at a bar. When she gets
to his shack, she has sobered up enough to have second thoughts. Finding a gun
in his glove compartment and what looks like blood in the trunk convinces her
that sleeping with him might not be the wisest choice. When she runs, he
follows, but it’s not clear whether he’s trying to explain or eliminate a
witness. Rather than ask questions, Mary Beth opts for the decisive action of
running him through with a harpoon. Faced with a dead body and a possible
murder charge, she returns to her sister and pleads for help. The ambiguity of
her actions (whether or not it was a necessary homicide) is indicative of the
film’s unwillingness to spell out things for the viewer.
That’s only the setup. There are more bodies and the
seemingly straightforward starting point turns out to be an entrance into a
dark and winding rabbit hole. As any mystery-lover knows, stories of this sort
are never just about the “whodunnit?” aspects. They are enriched by the characters
and their relationships. Indeed, in Blow the Man Down, there aren’t many
questions about the identities of the killers. It’s more about the reasons
behind their actions and the reactions of others. Missteps include a few too
many extraneous characters. For example, Officer Justin Brennan (Will Brittain),
the dogged young cop investigating one of the killings, feels half-finished, as
if there was more to his personality and purpose at one point but those
elements got lost along the way.
Atmosphere is one of Blow the Man Down’s strengths.
It’s often said that every Woody Allen movie from the 1970s and 1980s features
New York as one of the characters. Here, the lonely Maine coastline is as vivid
as any of the humans inhabiting Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s debut
feature. And it’s not only the camerawork. To enhance things, the filmmakers
employ a group of fishermen to sing a cappella renditions of mariners’ tunes
(including the title one). This serves two functions: to amp up the local “color”
and serve as a makeshift Greek chorus, with their song choices obliquely commenting
on the narrative.
Most of the actors are unfamiliar faces. Sophie Lowe (whose
lengthy filmography is comprised primarily of TV series, shorts, and indie
films no one has seen) and Morgan Saylor (with fewer credits but a slightly
higher profile) are both excellent. One wishes they had been accorded the same
amount of screen time during the film’s second half as during its first half.
Veteran actresses June Squibb and Annette O’Toole have supporting parts. And Margo
Martindale (if you don’t know the name, you’ll certainly know the face) fleshes
out a character that easily could have been two-dimensional.
One doesn’t approach a movie like Blow the Man Down with expectations that it will deliver the same kind of meal as Knives Out, which inhabits the same genre but exists on a different level. This is more about human nature and the oddities and darkness that can exist in isolated communities that seem to have been neglected or forgotten by the rest of the modern-day world. It’s a place of sea shanties and lighthouses (although none of the latter are shown), of fishing boats and harpoons, and of dead bodies washing ashore. There’s some humor, to be sure, but this isn’t a comedy. Nor is it strictly a thriller or a drama. But, regardless of how it’s classified, it’s well worth a look.
Blow the Man Down (United States, 2020)
Cast: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Annette O’Toole, Will Brittain, Gayle Rankin
Screenplay: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
Cinematography: Todd Banhazl
Music: Jordan Dykstra, Brian McOmber
U.S. Distributor: Amazon Studios
- (There are no more better movies of this genre)
- (There are no more better movies of Sophie Lowe)
- (There are no more worst movies of Sophie Lowe)
- (There are no more worst movies of Morgan Saylor)
- Lola Versus (2012)
- (There are no more better movies of Ebon Moss-Bachrach)
- (There are no more worst movies of Ebon Moss-Bachrach)