The Crime Is Simple but the Atmosphere Rich in ‘Blow the Man Down’
“Blow the Man Down” takes place in one of those settings tailor-made for a murder mystery. Maine once again becomes a misty, grey terrain where people seem to huddle in shadows while scheming wicked plots. That is this small film’s greatest strength. This is an Amazon production many viewers will now surely discover while hunkered down and enjoying their streaming services. What they will find is an example of environment over story, where texture and atmosphere engage more than the rogues.
The Connolly sisters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) have just lost their mother to illness. She left them a small shop in Easter Cove, a place of fishermen and ruffians, but the debts are piling up and they may have to close it soon. Priscilla is the more level-headed sister while Mary Beth is a bit more free-spirited. After their mother’s funeral Mary Beth heads to a bar where a shady guy with guns and coke takes her for a ride. But it becomes violent and Mary Beth ends up running him through with a harpoon. Terrified she calls on Priscilla who helps her chop up the body and put it in a fish box, sending it out to sea. The next day a different corpse turns up on shore, a dead young woman who worked at a local brothel run by Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale), the madam connected to everybody. Priscilla and Mary Beth now have to keep their deadly secret while deflecting any attention brought on by the other bloody case.
This is the kind of thriller that becomes a slow burner tour through a community. Directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, who also wrote the screenplay, have put more craft into the film’s environment than its central mystery. But it works because we’ve seen so many small town killings on film that it’s refreshing to see a work stand out as a character study. But before the characters there’s the place. Savage and Krudy turn Easter Cove into a distant, austere fishing port where the sun barely shines and wet coldness abounds. The film opens with a fisherman crooning an old folk song and this will serve as an interlude throughout the story that gives it a literary tone. The brothel run by Enid has the look of a comfortable Maine inn, there’s dark humor in how she sits behind a desk stone-faced while we can hear denizens having a good time in an upper floor. No wonder Stephen King sets many of his stories in these parts.
As the story unfolds it becomes more about the personalities who run such a small area where everyone is aware of everyone else’s secrets. Priscilla and Mary Beth become background characters in a sense. Taking more of a center stage is a group of older women who are essentially the town’s matriarchs and gossips. They are wonderfully played by June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot with a Puritan air as they meet in colonial-style houses. They once made a hazily-defined agreement with Enid years ago to open a brothel in order to calm the wants and impulses of the town’s rough males. Now that a girl has turned up dead they wonder if it’s time to close down the establishment. While out for a walk they give bad looks already to Alexis (Gayle Rankin), one of the girls who works for Enid and in daylight still walks with the attire of a call girl. The script is about how these characters relate to each other. The women look down at someone like Alexis while it was their group who approved of the brothel to begin with. Enid loves to annoy the women by pointing to whose husbands visit her girls. Priscilla and Mary Beth, played so well by Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor with the feeling of real siblings, are apart from it all until they have a body to hide. Will Britain plays a local cop named Justin, the kind of young guy who immediately likes Priscilla in this town where that probably means she is wife material. As a character he does little, except be that nice male in a world of roughnecks, oblivious to the darker side of life here. An older cop pokes at him for looking restless among Enid’s crop of temptations.
“Blow the Man Down” keeps few secrets hidden. Not even half an hour in and we know who the killers are, where the bodies are hidden and who has to stay quiet. Its charm is in how it lays out the town and its inhabitants. At its best it reaches the level of strange films like “Northfork,” where we have the sensation of spending time in a far, chilly corner of the world with people who sometimes commit rash acts out of boredom. Some movies don’t need over the top cases, just people and places where the setting is as intriguing as the crime.
“Blow the Man Down” begins streaming March 20 on Amazon Prime.