Grizzled fishermen singing old sea shanties is an unexpected, yet perfect way to set the mood for a fresh independent dark comedic noir mystery film from Amazon Studios.
A feature debut for the writing/directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, “Blow The Man Down” is a striking, exceptionally crafted work of art that pulls in some of the best elements of “Fargo,” Agatha Christie novels and “Gilmore Girls” to create a unique take on the genre.
Set in a remote fishing town in Maine, “Blow The Man Down” follows sisters Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly in the days following their mother’s funeral as a confrontation with a strange man leads the women down a path of murder and intrigue that entwines their close-knit community.
Newcomer Sophie Lowe brings a quiet, introspective presence to Priscilla – commonly known as Pris – and audiences can feel the wheels constantly churning in her head despite a lack of reaction by all outward appearances. There’s a sadness at the front of her performance that leaves Pris numb to the world around her that occasionally comes across as cold and callous, but Lowe softens the edges enough to ensure that this never feels to the point of being calculating.
“Homeland” star Morgan Saylor floats across the screen with reckless abandon, playing on Mary Beth’s impulsive nature to deliver a performance that draws viewers in without ever letting them get on Mary Beth’s side.
Lowe and Saylor have remarkable chemistry as sisters who double as identical opposites. Their reactions, although in contradiction with one another are perfectly in character and feel at times as if the same person is having two different reactions to one event. Mary Beth’s frantic emotions coalesce with Pris’s controlled demeanor to balance the sisters out as a rational unit.
Lowe plays off Saylor’s impulsiveness with a muted reaction that crystalizes her Priscilla as a cinematic inverse of Mary Beth, the same, but opposite person. Even at the times when it seems the two flip roles, Saylor turns down Mary Beth’s irrational nature as Lowe escalates Priscilla’s desperation to maintain this sense of balance.
With a brisk pace and laundry list of characters that populate Easter Cove, “Blow The Man Down” leaves audiences constantly yearning for more from the film’s terrific ensemble cast, which includes Academy Award nominee June Squibb and three-time Emmy Award winner Margo Martindale.
Martindale casts an especially large shadow over the mystery of the film as a ruthless bed-and-breakfast owner who expertly utilizes both charm and intimidation to get her way. In a screenplay that infers much more than it explains outright, Martindale perfectly uses her screen presence and inflection to make Mrs. Devlin authentically respected and feared.
Facial expressions play a key role in helping audiences navigate their way through the narrative web and Martindale is always able to maintain the proper tone with a subtle glance or twist of her mouth. There simply isn’t enough of Martindale in “Blow The Man Down,” which could easily have been turned into an eight-episode HBO miniseries.
Cole and Krudy are meticulous in the details of their world building, from costuming and production design to authentic casting and dialogue that gives viewers a true sense of place. Even though mystery is a primary element of the film, “Blow The Man Down” reveals its secrets as a part of world building rather than simply laying out the elements of the suspense in connect the dots fashion.
Camerawork presses in tightly on its leads to accentuate the tension and claustrophobia Pris and Mary Beth feel as their small world further closes in on them.
While the editing might feel unnecessarily jumpy at first glance, Cole and Krudy ping-pong back and forth between various camera angles within the same scene to capture specific images, disorient the viewer to heighten their attention or build suspense. Each element of the film from the script to the cast to the production team has a kinetic, frantic energy that provides a unique overall tone and visual style for the feature.
Composers Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber provide a mesmerizing soundtrack that heightens all the emotions that buzz around key moments in the film. Their exceptional use of strings jumps off the screen within the first 20 minutes and leaves audiences paralyzed with its ominous reverberations any time their score seeps its way back into the film.
If the tension provided in the soundtrack begins to suffocate audiences, revisiting the singing fishermen several times over the course of the 90-minute feature becomes a soothing reprieve from a makeshift Greek chorus.
The film debuted almost a year ago at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, where it was acquired for distribution by Amazon. After screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, “Blow The Man Down” skipped a theatrical release and was added to Amazon Prime in mid-March.
Tightly wrapped into a 90-minute frame, “Blow The Man Down” offers plenty of tense drama, dry humor and noir uncertainty to keep audiences entranced in the world Cole and Krudy create in their small Maine fishing town. Easily accessible at home on Amazon’s streaming platform, “Blow The Man Down” is easily one of the best and most unique films to be released so far in 2020 and well worth investing in for part of an afternoon or evening.