Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s chilling crime story finds spine-tingling tension in the mundane.
There’s something about New England fishing villages that give them an air of isolation from the larger world. Maybe this is why they feature so prominently in horror stories, from Stephen King to H.P. Lovecraft. These isolated communities breed secrets, and the quaint coastal towns have an underbelly that isn’t always apparent on the surface. While it lacks the supernatural element of the aforementioned writers, Blow The Man Down’s Easter Cove, Maine is infused with an underlying menace by writer/director duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy.
Drinking away the stress of her mother’s funeral, Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) goes on a joyride with out-of-towner Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Mary Beth’s reckless abandon soon turns to primal fear when she notices blood and hair in Gorski’s trunk. In fear for her life, Mary Beth kills Gorski and enlists her sister Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) to help dispose of the body.
As the sisters’ anxiety grows over the fear of being caught, they learn that Gorski may have been responsible for the murder of Dee, a prostitute at a local brothel. As Mary Beth and Priscilla are drawn further into the dark side of their small town after finding fifty-grand in Gorski’s apartment, they learn that their mother, Mary Margaret, helped found the brothel along with its current Madame, Enid (Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale). The sisters learn more about their mother and hometown’s dark past, as they try to avoid being apprehended for their crime.
The real surprise of Blow the Man Down is in how Cole and Krudy make everything seem so superficially mundane — like a Northeastern Fargo. The characters seem to be culled straight from the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog, decked out in quilted jackets, parkas, and beanies. The women who formed Mary Margaret’s friend group are the archetypical small town matriarchs, exuding warmth and charm as they dote on their husbands, provide comfort for the grieving sisters, and share town gossip. This makes their later scheming all the more unnerving, as we begin to learn their involvement in the shady economy of sex work along the docks.
Martindale gives Enid a middle-aged Machiavelli feel, almost like Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms. She schemes and broods, and uses her matronly appearance to fool others into underestimating her. In fact, as she realizes the sisters have the money, Enid opines what could be the thesis of the film: “A lot of people underestimate young women; that’s why they can get away with a lot.”
While Mary Beth and Priscilla don’t scheme to quite the level as the older women, they’re able to do more than what people would think to save their own skin. Lowe and Saylor give their characters the angst and anxiety of uncertain youth, but it’s truly the older actresses, especially Martindale, who steal the show.
It’s truly the older actresses, especially Martindale, who steal the show.
And the women do use the preconceived notions of the men to hide their crimes. Officer Coletti (Skipp Sudduth), the older police officer investigating Dee’s murder, is kept off the trail of the truth behind the crime due to his own hedonism and desire for Enid. Sudduth has a dopey, lustful air that makes Coletti a pathetic figure. He’s more invested in keeping his relationships with the underground figures than solving the crime.
On the other hand, the younger officer, Justin Brennan (Will Brittain), seems almost too pure and wholesome to be in this movie. Brittain plays him wide-eyed and enthusiastic, focused on actually solving the case, even if the truth always eludes him. Brennan develops a crush on Priscilla, and initially mistakes her fear of her own crime being discovered for shyness. In both cases, the male characters don’t see what’s in front of their eyes because they view the female characters only in relation to their desire.
The story is set amid the backdrop of a bleak midwinter in Maine, and cinematographer Todd Banhazl uses the long nights to shroud the residents of Easter Cove in shadows to obfuscate their dirty deeds. Even in the daylight, the truth isn’t made clear, and Banhazl uses overexposure to give the daytime a blaring white glow that hides as much as the shadows. Even as we learn more about Dee and Gorski’s murders, more mysteries are presented: How are Mary Beth and Dee connected, why do the group of older women want Enid’s brothel shut down, why was Dee murdered in the first place?
The score by Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber is full of discordant strings that heighten the feeling of unease, that something just isn’t quite right. And like a Greek chorus, a group of fishermen, lead by David Coffin, serve as overture and entr’acte, singing in beautiful baritone the sea shanties that give the movie its name.
Blow the Man Down will leave many viewers dissatisfied: while the incident surrounding Gorski’s murder is resolved, we’re left with more mysteries than answers. But Krudy and Cole are able to achieve something rare in film, and especially one that’s only an hour and a half. They give us a world that feels real, and lived in, that existed before the audience and will exist after. Viewers who enjoy ambiguous narratives will find a lot to sink their teeth into; and in these uncertain times, a good old-fashioned mystery might just help us get through it.
Blow the Man Down is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.