A film review by Craig J. Koban April 5, 2020

BLOW THE MAN DOWN jjj
 

2020, R, 91 mins.

 

Morgan Saylor as Mary Beth Connolly  /  Sophie Lowe as Priscilla Connolly  /  Margo Martindale as Enid Nora Devlin  /  June Squibb as Susie Gallagher  /  Annette O'Toole as Gail Maguire  /  Marceline Hugot as Doreen Burke  /  Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Gorski  /  Gayle Rankin as Alexis

Written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy

 

 

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

The new Amazon original Maritime murder mystery noir BLOW THE MAN DOWN deserves legitimate comparisons to the peak work of the Coen Brothers, in particular their Oscar nominated FARGO.  

Both films maintain a wonderfully evocative sense of period and place and contain an immersive regional texture.  Both films feature an eclectic menagerie of colorful characters set against the background of small town American.  Both films marry dark comedy and dramatic pathos exceptionally well.  And finally, both films show a drearier underbelly of isolated small town Americana that rarely gets seen in contemporary films, areas that look quaint and inviting on the outside, but contain dreadful secrets on the inside.  BLOW THE MAN DOWN isn't FARGO's equal (few films are), but it's more successfully Coen Brothers-esque than most other copycat offerings, and it also manages to be uniquely atmospheric and creatively novel in its own way. 

In the Maine town of Easter Cove we're quickly introduced to two sisters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), who have been dealt a terrible blow of having their mother pass away.  They inherit the deceased's fishing/hardware store operation and an unwanted amount of her personal debts.  Priscilla tries, as best as she can, to maintain this business under such stressful economic circumstances to honor her mother, and she does find kind support in her mom's friends, including Doreen (Marceline Hugot), Gail (Annette O'Toole), and Susie (June Squib).  Priscilla and Mary Beth try to support one another, but their starkly contrasting personalities cause them to lock horns on a repeated basis.  Worse yet, Mary Beth seems more driven by impulsive and irresponsible behavior than her workhorse sibling, which ends up costing both of them in unfathomable ways

 

 

One fateful night Mary Beth comes in contact with a local scumbag named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) at a local water hole.  Via a huge lapse of judgment on her part, she decides to let this lout take her home for the night, but on the way home she discovers tangible evidence in his car's truck that he has seriously hurt and/or maybe killed another person, which causes her to panic.  Fearing that she's about to shack up with a potential serial killer, Mary Beth starts to defend herself from Gorski's frightening advances, and when it becomes clear that he has more dreadful plans for her, she takes it to the next level and manages to harpoon impale the degenerate, killing him in the process.  Realizing her terrible predicament, Mary Beth reveals to Priscilla what she has done, with the latter taking charge and assisting her with disposing of the body, which ends up involving hacking it up into several pieces, placing the remains in a picnic cooler, and throwing it out into the bay.  Obviously, the two ladies never saw FARGO and have access to a wood chipper. 

Part of the darkly comic and intense nature of BLOW THE MAN DOWN comes in the form of seeing these ordinary, everyday young women that have been dealt up one personal hardship after another now having to deal with covering up a self defense murder, and while dealing with a confluence of other elements in the town slowly conspiring against them.  Written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy (making a sensational feature film debut here), BLOW THE MAN DOWN refreshingly and mercifully doesn't get too bogged down in the grisly details of the sisters' dismemberment of the corpse (its handled tactful off screen), but instead finds the more alarming undercurrent of the utter despair that these poor women now find themselves in, and especially with the full understanding that they're hopeless amateurs when it comes to body disposal and crime scene management (the knife used for the aforementioned dismemberment also goes missing).  While trying to keep everything on the down low, the pair face other tensions, like a discovery $50,000 cash in the dead man's home, a local prostitution ring, a determined  cop on the case and scene, and a townsperson that reveals to have the missing knife and wants to make a switch for the cash.   

Again, all of this reiterates the film's well simmered themes of small towns containing a lot of bad people and bad activities.  Then there are the sub themes of how the women in this small, seemingly run of the mill fishing community are actually the ones that rule it with an iron fist, and ironically through other women being exploited in prostitution rings.  The film's atmosphere is superb, and the directors manage to make this Maine costal town feel both inviting and hostilely intimidating all the same.  Plus, you gain an immediate sense of the cultural ethos here, with Cole and Krudy employing - in the opening scenes and then sprinkled throughout the narrative - a group of fisherman breaking the fourth wall to sing mariner ballads directly to the audience, with lyrics that frequently reiterate what's happening in the narrative.  It certainly feels like an obvious stylistic device, but it works wonders at developing BLOW THE MAN DOWN's strong sense of geography and the lively personalities contained within.  The film leaves you feeling absolutely transported to another place altogether not your own.   

And what an empowered and memorable female ensemble this film contains!  Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor are inordinately well paired here and create an instantly credible level of intimate, yet fractured sisterhood in the picture.  They mutually also do a superior job of imbuing the sense of nail biting anxiety that their characters are dealing with as the town itself seems to be closing in around them with a suffocating gripe.  The rest of the actress are sublime, especially Marceline Hugot and Annette O'Toole as some of the town's more caring and understanding voices of reason amidst all of the chaos that surrounds them.  And it's so bloody great to see the fantastic June Squib among the team here (remember her Oscar nominated turn in NEBRASKA all those years ago?), who plays her folksy townsperson with subtle layers that are only fully revealed late in the proceedings.  She does so much with simple body language and a look here that speaks volumes towards multiple key relationships presented throughout the story. 

Not all of BLOW THE MAN DOWN is exemplary, though.  The film has some pacing issues throughout, and sometimes the plot segues back and forth and in and out of the tale of the sister's troubles more than I would have liked.  And for a film that's barely 90 minutes long, some sections drag a bit and make the whole endeavor feel longer while screening it.  Yet, as a shanty town murder mystery thriller, BLOW THE MAN DOWN contains juicily offbeat and well developed characters, distinctly lived in New England locales, and an intoxicating central crime tale that makes Cole's and Krudy's debit efforts here hold up so much bloody promise for the future to come.  Yes, the film has the look and feel of a Coen Brothers clone, but it has its own novel voice that segregates itself apart from such descriptors.  BLOWN THE MAN DOWN is definitely a fiendishly brainy, macabre original, and we get so very few genre films of its ilk written, directed, and starring women, leaving it one to be admired and celebrated as a result.  Perhaps via a Greek chorus-like group of serenading fisherman. 

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