I’m a sucker for noir, folk songs, tragic misunderstandings, and Margot Martindale; which makes Blow the Man Down a movie I’m in the bag for from the get-go. Murders and sea shanties mixed with a town with a deep and sordid history? Brother, sign me up and take my money.
Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy wrote and directed Blow the Man Down and in so doing imbue the film with a sense of giddy dreariness. Cole and Krudy blend in a choral of old fishermen singing old fishing folk songs to punctuate each act. The two women seem to relish in the darkly humorous while also understanding the delicate balance of fated tragedy.
Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) are grieving the death of their mother. The two women are also dealing with the debt left behind, the fate of their house and the fishery shop, hanging by a thread. Mary Beth wants to get out of Easter Cove but Priscilla hasn’t the means or the desire to help.
Susie (June Squibb), Gail (Annette O’Toole), and Doreen (Marceline Hugot) attend the wake and comfort the girls. The three women have a habit of positioning themselves as some sort of tribunal. They oversee everything and seemingly remember everything as well. As the movie rolls along and the misunderstandings pile up, we begin to sense a strange sense of calm sinister righteousness underneath their smiling gazes.
Todd Banhazl frames Blow the Man Down with an eye towards the geometric. People are always forming a shape of one kind or another in a scene, sometimes obvious, other times not. The result is that it keeps us off balance. The two ladies and Banhazl aren’t afraid to get surreal, either. Using the chorus of fisherman to act as a Greek Chorus, sometimes even having their heads flotation on the sides of the frames as the characters go about their business.
In the middle of the night, Enid (Margo Martindale) shows up with a casserole to give the girls her condolences. The girls are grateful if a little confused as to how she knew their mother. By the end of the movie, the two will have realized they didn’t know their mother or their town at all.
Enid runs a bordello for the fisherman at the dock. A fact that everyone seems fine with until one of her girls ends up dead in the reef. A fact that unnerves Mary Beth and Priscilla because they have also dumped a man, Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) onto the rocks as well. So, it’s understandable that when the cute rookie officer in town Officer Justin (Will Brittain) asks Priscilla for her boat so they can go drag a body; she’s a little squeamish.
Mary Beth killed Gorski. Wish wouldn’t be so bad but she dragged her sister Priscilla in on disposing of the body. Of course, for anyone who’s ever seen a Fritz Lang movie, knows that the knife they use to carve up the body with their company name on the handle is sure to be left behind. It doesn’t make the moment any less tense, it is merely faithful to the moralistic machinations of the genre.
Cole and Krudy pack so much story into Blow the Man Down that it’s hard to really get into it without also unraveling six other side stories. Suffice to say the duo expertly and cleanly tie the stories together. Granted, when you have the likes of Martindale, Squibb, O’Toole, and Hugot, it makes your job easier.
The duo gives each actress enough material to chew on so we can tell they’re having fun without overdoing it. Martindale, as always, is a delight to behold. Waving her ornate cane around as she adjusts her oversized fur coat barking out warnings or confiding with soothing platitudes, her Enid is both terrifying and pitiful.
Blow the Man Down rolls along with a certain sense of surreal inevitability. The haunting score by Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra and Banhazl’s camerawork combine to make it so you can feel the chilly Atlantic breeze. Cole and Krudy delight in letting their characters converse, oftentimes with them dancing around the subject, speaking in generalities.
Saylor and Lowe, the two leads have an almost impossible task of anchoring a movie packed with absolute legends of the craft. That they succeed at all is a testament to both their talent and skill and to Cole and Krudy’s. Lowe’s Priscilla seems to both love her little sister while also wanting to strangle her at times. Saylor’s Mary Beth feels likewise but with an added flair of disappointment and confusion that her big sister chains herself to a town that will ultimately destroy her.
I couldn’t help but smile Skip Sudduth as Officer Coletti showed up. He’s one of those character actors like Clarence Williams III where seeing him usually means in your in for a treat. Even if the rest of the movie is a wash Sudduth is one of those actors where his presence made it all a little bearable.
Granted, Blow the Man Down is packed with those types of actors. Squibb plays a harmless doddering granny who might be cleverer than she lets on. O’Toole sinks her teeth into her character while also showing us a hint of pain and regret. Of course, Hugot ties it all together as the de facto leader who always seems to show up knowing the situation before anyone tells her.
One of the discoveries made by Priscilla and Mary Beth is that the bordello was an idea had by the four older ladies and their dead mother. “You weren’t here in the old days. You don’t know what it was like.” They hint at how Enid’s establishment was meant as a buffer between the fishermen and the women. Though the girls at Enid’s don’t seem to be from around here.
The undercurrent of Blow the Man Down is dark and unseemly which clashes, purposefully, with the cheery small-town facade. Taken with how Cole and Krudy meticulously plot their story gives it all a noirish feel. Noirs are often as much about people trapped by their own beliefs and responsibilities as their own desires.
Blow the Man Down is one of those movies that is steeped in story and blissfully doesn’t care if you get it all. It tells you what you need to know and the rest is left up to you to decipher from between the lines. Oh, it’s not coy about what it’s not saying. The words spoken or so deliberate and plain, that the words left unspoken, are just as loud and clear as the words that were spoken.