Producers: Drew Houpt, Alex Scharfman, Tim Headington and Lia Buman Directors: Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole Screenplay: Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole Cast: Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, Marceline Hugot, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Gayle Rankin, Will Brittain, Skipp Sudduth, Thomas Key and David Coffin Distributor: Amazon Studios
A clever, atmospheric modern film noir that makes good use of an expert cast and unusual locations, this tale of death and long-buried secrets in a snow-swept Maine fishing village announces its eccentricity upfront by beginning with a fisherman (David Coffin) singing the titular sea-shanty, soon joined by others of his trade.
The chorus reappears periodically through the movie, but the plot kicks in quickly. The Connolly sisters, Priscilla or Pris (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) are introduced on the day of their mother’s funeral. Despite the fact that they’ve just learned that their mom died deeply in debt, the older, more pragmatic Pris hopes to keep the family’s fish store open; Mary Beth, on the other hand, wants to move on as quickly as possible.
In fact, that very night she goes to a local bar where she meets a burly fellow named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Their night together proves all too eventful. When he takes her back to his place near a crowded dock, she discovers blood in the trunk of his car even as he gets too close. To defend herself against him, she picks up a harpoon and uses it, along with a conveniently-placed brick.
When she tells Pris what’s happened, they decide that instead of going to the police—the obtuse Chief Coletti (Skip Sudduth) and his young, earnest deputy Justin (Will Brittain)—they decide to dispose of the corpse, cramming it into a not-quite-large-enough freezer and dumping it into the sea. In later checking out the dock, Mary Beth also finds a plastic bag with a lot of money.
When a body washes up, Pris is sure their luck has gone south, but it turns out to be someone else entirely—a girl who worked for Enid (Margo Martindale) in her bed, board—and brothel. The victim was the friend of another of the working girls, Alexis (Gayle Rankin), who’s deeply affected by her death.
Also interested in everything that’s going on is another sort-of local chorus: a trio of elderly ladies—Susie, Gail and Doreen (played by June Squibb, Annette O’Toole and Marceline Hugot), who were not only close to the deceased Mrs. Connolly, but well aware of Enid’s lucrative business.
How all this eventually comes together—with a nifty final shot—won’t be revealed here, but as confected by Krudy and Cole and edited by Marc Vives, it’s quite satisfying. The acting is all one could want, with Saylor and Lowe working well with one another and the Squibb-O’Toole-Hugot trio expectedly charming—with a sharp undercurrent; Rankin also offers an affecting turn. Overshadowing them all, though, is Martindale, whose flamboyant performance is perfectly suited to Enid’s oversized character. The males are frankly secondary here, but Brittain is likable and Moss-Bachrach appropriately odious.
The cast benefits from the authenticity of the setting fashioned by production designer Jasmine Ballou Jones and costumer Brooke Bennett. Cinematographer Todd Banhazl captures the atmosphere with a crispness that reflects the snowbound locale, and the music by Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra is an especially important part of the mix.
“Blow the Man Down” has been compared to some Coen brothers films—“Blood Simple” and “Fargo” spring to mind—and the comparisons are apt. This is a most promising, darkly engaging debut.