by Ken Bakely
Surprising and engaging from start to finish, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s Blow the Man Down is an accomplished, sharp, and slyly funny film. Set in Easter Cove, a gloomy port town in Maine, the film follows Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophia Lowe), two sisters who have just lost their mother. They haven’t been close for some time, and in coming back together for the funeral, more conflicts naturally arise. However, when Priscilla has a violent confrontation with a menacing stranger named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bacharach), which culminates in her killing him with the combined efforts of a harpoon and a brick, the two are suddenly bound by this secret, in the efforts of disposing the body and managing the creeping dread which follows – hardly helped by the simultaneous discovery of another body, which puts the police on high alert. Strange things are happening in the town, which has been thrown off balance by the death of Mary Beth and Priscilla’s mother, a widely revered figure who kept many local squabbles at bay. From Enid (Margo Martindale), the longtime owner of a brothel thinly disguised as a bed and breakfast, to the three older women (Annette O’Toole, June Squibb, and Gayle Rankin) who want Enid out and her business closed, the hidden underside of this community has come roaring out, with little clarity on where things will go, and who exactly is doing what.
The film constructs its environment with an assured energy: Cole and Krudy’s twisting and turning script is brought to life behind the camera through their perceptive direction, Todd Banzahl’s stark cinematography, and Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra’s moody score. Even when the film’s scripting feels a bit overburdened for its brief running time, the movie is never anything less than sturdily and thoughtfully executed, and is also bolstered by strong lead performances. Saylor and Lowe are good leads, working well in displaying the turmoil that the characters go through as they’re placed deeper and deeper in the tumultuous storm of peril that they’re launched into. The supporting cast, made up of many veteran actors (and almost all of them women), is roundly excellent, but special mention must be given to Martindale, who gives an entertaining and spirited performance as Enid. Blow the Man Down is, while perhaps not always as well-connected or cohesive in its scripting as it could be, at its absolute best when it assembles its mosaic: the enveloping collection of characters, moments, and images that make up its world. In other words, the revelation of exactly how all of the twists and turns fit together is fine enough, but what really makes the movie stand out is its ability to put us through the experience of watching everything unfold around you.
From the start of the movie, which begins with a group of fishermen loudly performing the shanty that the title comes from, to a wordless final moment which is just about one of the best endings of the year so far – tying up loose ends and providing one last unexpected development for us to leave on – Cole and Kurdy introduce something memorable at every turn. It all amounts to the creation of a journey that’s unsparingly efficient, but never to the point of feeling overly processed or artificially smoothened out. It’s careful without being cautious, economical without feeling constrained. We do get to know these characters, learn what they’re hiding, and more importantly, how that relates to what else is waiting to be revealed. This is an entertaining and fascinating work that might not truly rise to new heights and build to something spectacular, but the baseline it’s operating from is highly accomplished and incredibly compelling. And with dark humor, well-realized characters, and a precise rhythm, Blow the Man Down has a demeanor so developed and certain that it’s a sure sign of a cast and crew working in great harmony. We are always certain that we’re watching a film of dedicated artistry, with a robust substance and particular energy that works together well.