Small-town thrillers are mostly dominated by strong and complicated male characters. Even when there are female leads, the male characters will always remain integral to the story. But in the talented hands of the first-time writers/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, that is not the case. They brilliantly reinvent the genre by telling the story entirely from the perspectives of flawed and complex female characters who run the behind-the-scenes politics of the fishing small town of Easter Cove, Maine where the movie is located.
Blow the Man Down opens with a group of fishermen singing the sea shanty of the title. We don’t know who they are, but their presence will return at various points, giving the movie more texture and eeriness. The story, however, centers around two sisters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) who just buried their mother after a long illness. On the day of her funeral, Mary Beth, who decided to give up college to take care of her mother a year ago, finds out that she has left them with nothing but a huge amount of debt. Her sister Priscilla tries to be hopeful by telling her that they can still pay the debt if they keep running their mother’s fishmonger business. But Mary Beth has had enough of it. She’s desperate to escape from this “shitty town” and start anew somewhere. She makes one last stop at a local bar where she meets a dirtbag named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). A series of flirtations lead her to go with him to his house, but after she spots a gun and bloodstains in his car, she panics and tries to survive the night by stabbing his neck with a harpoon and smashing his head using a brick. She ends up going back to her house where she asks Priscilla to help her cover up the murder. Though at first they reluctantly try to do the right thing by calling the police, Priscilla and Mary Beth eventually decide to dispose of the body by themselves using a knife from the shop and a picnic coolbox.
In a lesser movie, what follows would only focus on whether the sisters will get caught or not, but Cole and Krudy manage to offer something more refreshing here. They only use the murder as the starting point of what the movie explores, which is the small-town politics and the power struggle between its people, as well as all the dark secrets that are hidden underneath it. Yes, more blood will be spilled and a police investigation is underway, but the focus of the movie isn’t on the procedural elements, but rather on how this bad decision and the paranoia that comes with it will test the already-volatile relationship between the sisters and all the other inhabitants of this small town.
Plenty of new secrets are revealed as the movie progresses and as new characters are introduced. There’s a boss named Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale) who secretly runs the town’s brothel where Gayle Rankin’s Alexis and the newly found body of a woman named Dee work. There are also three old ladies who seem nice on the outside but actually very cunning and strategic. And the relationships between all of them and their connections to the murder of Gorski and Dee get revealed as we learn more about who they are.
The script from Cole and Krudy is tightly written—rich in detail both narratively and emotionally. The film doesn’t waste any time, but never once does the plot feel rushed. If anything, it’s the breakneck speed that makes the Blow the Man Down even more heightened. Also assisted by an intense score composed by Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber, as well as the chilly cinematography from Todd Banhazl, what we get here is a thoroughly suspenseful experience from start to finish—one that will have you at the edge of your seat the whole time.
Blow the Man Down feels refreshing and original despite the familiar small-town thriller trope that we often see in movies like Fargo and Blood Simple, a touch of female empowerment seamlessly stitched into the script by Cole and Krudy. But it’s not the only thing that rejuvenates the genre. As illustrated by the ending, what Blow the Man Down achieves here is an excellent portrait of how in this patriarchal world, women are expected to always look out for each other if they want to survive. Though in the end, the thriller part of the movie feels familiar, Cole and Krudy’s attempt to breathe new energy into the genre by highlighting what women can do, along with the phenomenal performances from the cast — especially Margot Martindale who continues her reign as a boss lady — successfully catapults Blow the Man Down as one of the first excellent movies of the year. Don’t sleep on this movie, cause it will, sorry, blow you away.
Reyzando Nawara is a passionate Indonesian based film and TV enthusiast who enjoys to write and discuss about cinema or anything TV-related. Big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve, Alex Ross Perry, and Noah Baumbach.