In the region of New England, Maine might just be the inverted Florida of the North. While Florida is the obvious hot, sweaty mess some might want to ditch into the sea, Maine’s quirks are much more subtle, ambiguous and even deceptive. Secrets, history, baggage, people that keep their cards to the chest, all of these inscrutable dynamics cleverly come into play with murder, grief, and crime in the inventive and vivid Blow the Man Down. Writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, making their feature debut, are clearly more than just fans of the great crime subgenre known primarily for doomed men and conniving ladies. They’re believers — as the Coen’s were with Fargo — in noir’s adaptability, in this case to a tale steeped in sisterhood and sea shanties.
We first enter into the filmmakers’ setting of sleepy, isolated Easter Cove, Maine, through a point that is bifurcated, amusingly, by traditional gender roles. First, we see the area’s burly fisherman (including the great shanty singer David Coffin) singing the legendary titular work song against a cloudy coral sky as if we’re in the overture of a seafaring adventure, after which we learn where all the women can be found: at the wake for a respected town elder Mary Margaret Connolly, trading stories in a homey kitchen. For Mary Margaret’s grown daughters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), however, the glowing tales of mom’s tried-and-true friendship — as told by her longtime pals Susie (June Squibb), Gail (Annette O’Toole), and Doreen (Marceline Hugot) — are of little comfort when what the sisters have been left with is a debt-ridden fish shop and the possible loss of the family house. The siblings also have their own issues with each other — restless Mary Beth eager to escape town, having mostly been absent, while responsible, pragmatic Priscilla ran the business and took care of their ailing mother.
What makes their grieving considerably more dire, though, is Mary Beth’s run-in later that night with a dangerous character at the local bar, the consequences of which leave both sisters with blood on their hands, on the soles of their mom’s beloved rain boots, and in a gruesomely stuffed ice chest pushed off a seaside cliff into the roiling waters. It’s a situation compounded by the discovery of a bag of cash and, the next day, a young woman’s body washed ashore, all of which puts the sisters in the unfortunate cross hairs of both a sweet natured but suspicious young lawman (Will Brittain) and the town’s resident vice boss, B&B owner and madam Enid Devlin, played with bone-deep steeliness by Margo Martindale.
As secrets are spilled and this salty town’s hidden connections of female enterprise and power is exposed, Blow the Man Down brings satisfaction with a strong blend of suspense, and dashes of the sociopolitical, with the theme of old ways bumping up against new reckonings getting a nicely complex feminist shading, and Todd Banhazl’s grimy, chilly, tactile cinematography providing plenty of costal snap. The story’s sharp turns are nicely echoed, too, by the off-kilter, clattery score from Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra, with the atmosphere often punctuated by the Greek chorus-like sea shanty interludes by David Coffin and the other aforementioned fishermen.
Cole and Krudy often tackle each scene with a refined sense of delirium, seeing the characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown. But, it’s also the overall performances that add to the portrait of a close-knit community struggling to reconcile its friendly grit with its darker compromises. But even so, Cole and Krudy aren’t always in the surest command of their various narrative strands — when a prostitute played by Gayle Rankin briefly takes center stage as an amateur sleuth, the movie seems to lose sight a bit with Priscilla and Mary Beth’s story. But, as a whole, this is a film that comes as a powerful announcement of some exciting new filmmakers. A promise of a excitingly delightful, singularly unusual and wicked career to come. A New England nautical noir bolstered by a keen eye and secretive feminal connections, Blow the Man Down and its vivid milieu find ways to cut deep.
Blow the Man Down is available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video