blow the man down review

Sex, drugs, and murder rock the sleepy New England seaside town in Blow the Man Down, a chillingly savage debut feature from co-directors and screenwriters Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy that makes a strong case for them to be the heirs to the Coen Brothers’ wintry crime drama throne. Plenty of talented filmmakers have tried to ape the Coens’ singular brand of brutal absurdity, but Cole and Krudy succeed in pulling off Fargo-esque shenanigans while adding their own feminist twist.

Blow the Man Down follows the Connolly sisters (Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor), as they mourn the death of their mother after a long illness. But they’re given precious little time to grieve as they find their mother had left them in dire financial straits, drowning in medical bills and on the verge of losing their house. Their grieving process is cut further short when the restless Mary Beth (Saylor) heads home with a stranger from the bar only to discover that the trunk of his car is covered in blood. Frightened, she runs from his car and in a heated tussle, kills him. She turns to her level-headed sister Priscilla (Lowe), and together they chop up and dump the body in the ocean. But when a different body washes up the next day, the two sisters find themselves entangled in a deeper and more dangerous web than they could have anticipated.

The two wildly different sisters provide a strong emotional through-line for this intriguing tale of a sleepy New England town that harbors some dark and violent secrets. Priscilla, the responsible and loyal sister, was satisfied with living the rest of the days in the small fishing town, working diligently at the family fish market. But Mary Beth is impulsive, eager to leave town and never look back. However, both their plans are put on hold after the accidental murder, which kicks off a series of events involving a town brothel masquerading as a bed-and-breakfast and a secret society of old ladies. It sounds a bit more ridiculous on paper than it is in the film: Enid (Margo Martindale) is the den mother of a small prostitution ring that has been running undetected for years, but her seedy, questionably legal tactics have earned the ire of her former friends (Annette O’Toole, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot). When the washed-up body is discovered to be one of Enid’s girls, her friends resolve to no longer turn a blind eye and take Enid to task. But Enid has her own issues to resolve, including the sudden disappearance of a certain criminal acquaintance.

Cole and Krudy manage to turn some of Blow the Man Down‘s more unbelievable aspects into a coherent part of the film’s haunting and moody tapestry. The film’s deliberate pace slowly builds an unspeakable dread that is as all-consuming as the winter frost that permeates the air, and the occasional interludes of the Greek chorus of fishermen singing the title song grants a timeless, fable-like air to the story. But the stark, blue-accented cinematography and the occasional splashes of bloody violence brings it back down to Earth.

But it’s the cast that sells the film’s earthy, tactile tone. Beloved character actress Martindale in particular striking a formidable figure as Enid, a woman who exudes a weary fierceness that can only have come out of a hard life lived. The rest of the female-dominant cast is equally impressive: O’Toole, Squibb, and Hugot see-saw delightfully between frumpy and fearsome, while Lowe and Saylor deliver a compelling push-pull dynamic that drives the film’s momentum. While Saylor is engaging in the somewhat familiar role of the reckless free spirit, Lowe nails a tortured internality as Priscilla, who begins to resent her duty as the responsible sister. The sisters remains separate from that of Enid and her rival friends, until their storylines collide dramatically.

As the various plot threads unfold, Cole and Krudy display a remarkable talent for juggling the various characters and their emotional journeys. The society of senior ladies Doreen, Susie, and Gail could have been written off as cartoonish supporting characters, but hints at a dark past amidst the town’s troubled economy suggest a far richer characterization for all of them. Even a sympathetic prostitute (Gayle Rankin) who becomes the pawn of the senior lady society gets a profound emotional arc, though it does temporarily shift the film’s focus from the sisters. The film falls a little out of step when it attempts to pursue some of the typical hallmarks of the crime drama — the movie especially drags when it focuses on the young investigating cop (Will Brittain) with a crush on Priscilla who closes in on the wider conspiracy. But it’s saved in the electric interactions between the nuanced, complex female characters that populate this film.

Blow the Man Down marks a triumphant debut for Cole and Krudy, who knock it out of the park with this disquieting crime drama amid a bleak and desolate wintry tundra. Blow the Man Down is a timeless film that feels both out of time and painfully of the time. It’s the forgotten America, where darker secrets lie in wait just beneath the surface, ready to explode.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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