There is nothing more dangerous than the female of any species. They possess the ability to grant life, yet will also bring forth the full weight of their wrath if needed. It’s the lioness who hunts for the pack, the mama bear who tends her cubs, the human mother who will do whatever she has to do when it comes to her kids. In all the corners of the world, from the packed cities to the rural towns, women go about their days, unsure of what they are truly capable of until pushed. Exploring this concept are co-writers and co-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy in the darkly comic thriller Blow the Man Down, releasing on Amazon Prime Video. We often think we know what kind of world we live in until something shakes the veil loose and reality comes crashing in. The question this modern day Agatha Christie tale asks isn’t what would you do, but what are you willing to do?
Things are not looking good for Connolly sisters Priscilla and Mary Beth (Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor). Their mother, Mary Margaret (Linda Shary), had succumbed to illness, the family fish market isn’t doing well, and all Mary Beth wants to do is get back to school and away from fishing town Easter Cove, Maine. Out for a drink to drown her woes, Mary Beth meets Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a dirtbag of a man who’s as eager to leave Easter Cove as Mary Beth. When their night of fun turns to terror, Mary Beth goes to Priscilla for help. In so doing, the two girls unwittingly learn that their small town is filled with terrible secrets.
Thrillers set in small towns are not anything new. Fargo, A Simple Plan, Frailty — each of these films explores the creeping underbelly of man in small town America. To their credit, Cole and Krudy have crafted a film that deserves comparison to these other thrillers. Everything within the film has a purpose with neither a shot nor a performance in excess, and their narrative structure is a delicious parfait of ever-darkening revelations. For one, the direction is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s in The Shining and it’s noticeable from the start as the screen opens on a lone boat floating in the oft-center distance, a singer’s voice beginning to bellow the lyrics to sea shanty “Blow the Man Down.” There exists a purposefulness as the camera holds for longer than you’d expect on the boat rising and falling on the dimly lit water before the camera slowly pans to the right. It’s not quick nor rushed. It’s patient and thus fills the audience with a sense that something they see is important. The rest of the film is handled this way, creating an instinctual sense within the audience that everything has a meaning. Later, as Mary Beth looks through a doorway while laying prone, the camera mimics her perspective as it looks through the empty doorway in terrible anticipation. In moments like these the direction places the audience exactly where the characters are, making their hesitancy and fear our own. Their direction is only but one key piece of the feel of Blow the Man Down, as Cole and Krudy have placed key aspects in plain sight throughout thematically, narratively, and aesthetically. If the direction doesn’t put you in the right headspace, the playfully ominous score from It Comes At Night composers Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber will certainly do the trick.
The first key aspect comes in the form of the title which takes its name from the sea shanty. “Blow the Man Down” is often connected with pirates, swashbucklers of the sea who take what they want and give nothing in return. The meaning of the song is disputed, but one thing that can be agreed upon is that the line “blow the man down” refers to someone being hit with great force. Now, whether that’s storm related or interpersonal is unclear, but its meaning within the film is more than obvious when given some thought against the narrative. Cole and Krudy have created a tale in which stormy seas, no matter the force of gale or man, will not stop the singers, nor stop the Connollys from surviving the choppy waters left in the wake of their mother’s death. Another critical aspect is the imagery of mermaids adorning the Connolly Market. According to myths, mermaids possess a beguiling beauty which enables them to lure in unsuspecting prey. Easter Cove may be a fishing town, but the only ones in the film seen slicing up the catch are the women. They are the ones doing the dirty work at home while the men do the catching. This, itself, is another aspect (male/female dynamics in society) Cole and Krudy explore through the ways in which characters engage. It’s worth noting, explicitly, that throughout Blow the Man Down, only the women are ever in real positions of power, especially Susie Gallagher (June Squibb), Doreen Burke (Marceline Hugot), Gail Maguire (Annette O’Toole), and Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale), the four women who make up the unspoken matriarchy of the town, of whom Mary Margaret was a part. They may not be the strongest or the most powerful, but you underestimate these women at your own peril. They will endure past what you’d expect and they are far more patient and clever than you.
At the start, it would be easy to misunderstand what Blow the Man Down is. The stillness of the direction, the music sung by the fisherman as they gather their wares before heading back out to sea, the gathering of a funeral, all of these things are disparate yet connected in ways which come to make sense the further into the film audiences go. What at once seems like a simple family drama between sisters as they cope with the death of their mother becomes something entirely new as they learn about their heritage and hidden privilege. Actors Lowe and Saylor bear the brunt of the work in the film as the Connolly sisters at the epicenter of events set in motion before they ever get involved. As strong as Saylor is as slightly wayward sister Mary Beth, it’s Lowe who steals the whole film. Her performance conveys the depth of pain and discomfort that burdens caregivers who refuse to show how much it hurts to others. There’s a quiet pain that comes through to communicate just how disrupted Priscilla is from her mother’s illness and the resilience she innately possesses. Lowe communicates much of this through a glance, a pause, and even the unexpected assuredness in a traumatic situation. Opposite the young actors, Squibb, Hugot, O’Toole, and Martindale steal almost every scene they appear in. Much like the story itself, the appearance of the women is, at first, comforting, but their omniscience belies something more than just a small town, and these actors are more than up to the task.
Unexpectedly smart, thrilling, and darkly humorous, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s Blow the Man Down is just the type of unexpected adventure to get you through a long evening. It’s thoughtful enough to keep you guessing, smart enough to handle the layers of toxic masculinity it disembowels, and is executed by actors who make it all seamless. Frankly, the fact that it’s getting a wide release on a large service like Amazon is going to be an enormous boon with everyone encouraged to stay in place. Blow the Man Down is the kind of creative storytelling audiences crave.
Available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video beginning March 20th, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.