Everyone has their favorite urban legends, mine typically revolve around abandoned places and towns that have no explanation in their abandonments. Others like bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or the Bermuda Triangle. It’s easy to see that the latter is the favorite of the filmmakers behind The Block Island Sound, as its influence is written all over the dark folktale told in the film. After their successes on shows American Vandal (Netflix) and Cobra Kai (soon to be a Netflix show, following its departure from YouTube), filmmakers Kevin and Matthew McManus are trying their hands behind the camera of their first horror film, with results about as murky as the legitimacy of all these urban legends listed.
Harry Lynch (Chris Sheffield) is a young man living on Block Island, Rhode Island, taking care of his aging father, Tom (Neville Archambault), who is becoming more prone to sleepwalking into dangerous situations. When his father disappears one day on his boat out on the Block Island Sound, Harry calls upon his sister, Audry (Michaela McManus) to help lead the search in locating him. Along the way, the two siblings will begin to realize that the disappearance of their father has brought forth a strong supernatural force to the island that they must work together to identify and stop.
In its first half, The Block Island Sound had me. It had a wonderfully shot opening sequence to rope me in, its performances across the board are very well done (including a very underrated Jim Cummings in a supporting role), and its atmosphere is one that sends shivers down your spine. However, as the film chugs on, there comes a convolutedness to the whole endeavor that leaves the film lacking the imagination and mystery it started with. It never outright spoils anything for you, but the gradual realizations that are made throughout the film don’t do much to raise the stakes to feel any sort of narrative satisfaction, apart from the film’s final 10 minutes, which did manage to bring me back in again by actually returning to the mysterious, atmospheric roots of its first act.
And maybe it’s because The Block Island Sound feels like a great 30-40-minute short film expanded to a 95-minute feature with a ton of filler that begins to wear thin very quickly. Take all that out and you could have a lean supernatural horror film that pulls no punches and gets from Point A to Point B without having to take 16 detours along the way. Boiled down to its essence, The Block Island Sound told an enjoyable story arc, even if I disagreed with the ways it got there.
This isn’t to say this isn’t a competently made film, as it’s wonderfully shot with the stark bleakness one could expect from overcast New England. It sets the tone for the film very well in the beginning and does sustain visual flair up until the very end (with some surprisingly great visual effects in its finale, too). The McManus brothers, also, are very much actors’ directors, with each role (even the completely unnecessary filler roles) filled out wonderfully by good performers being directed well. Both Sheffield and McManus play off of each other wonderfully and bring the stakes of the entire film to their fleshed-out characters.
The Block Island Sound isn’t a bad film; far from it, actually. The biggest issue is that there are just multiple elements that are just slightly off, and those things add up over time to bring my interest in the film down when it feels like most things aren’t as fully realized as they could’ve been. But these things can often be ignored given what you personally like in your modern horror films, as there’re simply too many sub-genres to count at this point. There’s still much to praise in the film’s atmospheric aesthetic and good performances across the board, even if so much else of the film’s possible mythology and lore aren’t expanded upon in the way that it could’ve been.
Currently streaming during the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.
For more information on The Block Island Sound, head to the official festival website.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.