Imagine, if you will, a sleepy little fishing town in Maine. Imagine seeing the ocean, calm and serene, with a few ships bobbing in the water like toy boats. Then we pan over to the dock where a stocky fisherman starts leading the other dock workers in a sea shanty. They all start to sing “Blow the Man Down” in full fisherman attire, popping up every now and then throughout the movie to provide some soothing tunes. They have no bearing on the plot, yet they’re always present. They give us a sense of setting. This isn’t your average crime movie. Hell, this isn’t even your average movie. This is Blow the Man Down, which is the best approximation on if the Coen Brothers decided to set Fargo in Maine.
I think the best way to describe Blow the Man Down is it’s a little sea shanty of its own. There’s joy, sorrow, and a lot of odd moments to it, but it has an odd peaceful effect to it. It’s like you’re falling asleep on a boat, being rocked away by the waves and the smell of salt water. You can just tell that this is a special movie. Not special in the way that it’s going to define cinematic history, but special because it gave me something that I didn’t realize I was missing before. It made me feel cozy, like being bundled up in a blanket and feeling the ocean breeze. Whenever a movie can transport me away from a New York theater it has to be doing something right.
Blow the Man Down
Director: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
The Connolly sisters are in a pretty bad place. Their mother recently passed away, they’re going to lose their house, and they have no money to speak of. A healthy amount of the community in Easter Cove are mourning with them, but things take a bad turn when one of the sisters accidentally murders a man, which tends to happen if you’re being abducted into a sex trafficking ring. When the man dies, the two sisters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), try to cover it up to the best of their abilities, but they leave a few holes in their alibi. Slowly the dark secrets of the town come to light through their actions and some of her mother’s friends, most notably Enid, the owner of the local bed and breakfast, take an interest in the two of them for all of the wrong reasons. There’s murder, theft, drugs, haddock, and sea shanties galore.
If you couldn’t tell from earlier on, the setting of Blow the Man Down, Easter Cove, is the movie’s strongest point. Maine may be the defacto location for all Stephen King horror stories, but seeing a thriller like this set in a quiet fishing town is refreshing. The town almost feels like a character where we learn about its history, how the people of the town make ends meet, and learning about the various people that live in it. There are a surprising amount of characters that pop up here and there only to paint of picture of what Easter Cove is like if you were to visit.
In town there’s a clear divide between the older generation and how they view the town versus the younger residents and how they’ve never known strife their seniors had to endure. There’s a greek chorus of old ladies that come around and comment on the events happening in the town and rarely get involved, but when they do it’s to reveal that they did what they had to do to survive and flesh out that all isn’t right in Easter Cove. There’s an unwritten code between the older residents, and one that Enid is willing to exploit for her own goals. While she may be the main antagonist, played beautifully by Margo Martindale, there’s such a sense of energy within her that I wanted to see more of her. I can always watch a crotchety old woman scrounge around for booze while pointing out people’s bullshit and threatening to attack you with a cane.
Everyone in the cast delivers a solid performance, all building on one another. This is the textbook definition of an ensemble cast, with each character’s subplot building into one complete narrative. We may follow the sisters trying to deal with their cover up, Enid piecing together the truth, a pair of cops trying to solve a completely unrelated murder, or a prostitute making end’s meet, but all of them serve a single purpose. Of the various plot threads, the cop’s story was probably the weakest due to how sporadically we saw them, but not bad.
There is a certain charm in Blow the Man Down that reminds me of how the Coen Brothers present their characters and worlds. Everything is understated and not shoved in your face. You’re expected to think for yourself and get to know the world and how it works. Little moments that could have been cut in other movies instead feel necessary here. I’m pretty sure we didn’t need an entire scene dedicated to Priscilla managing the family’s fish store, but it works here as a slice of her life. The audience becomes intimate with the characters and grows to like them while fishermen appear in the background to serenade us with a variety of solemn shanties.
Blow the Man Down is the rare movie that knows exactly what it wants to be and doesn’t care about meeting an expectations. It’s a well told story about what happens after you harpoon a guy who tried to abduct you and what the little old ladies in town may think of you or each other. But it knows what it wants to be. It delivers on all levels and the fact that this is the first movie that Cole and Krudy ever wrote and directed makes me incredibly optimistic about their next project. They’ll certainly have a high bar to reach.