Premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, Blow the Man Down is a film debut by writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. It opens in Easter Cove, a small parochial fishing village along the coast of Maine, in a somewhat clichéd but contemporary riff on “Murder She Wrote”.
We see a history of covering up secrets by the small town’s residents. And we listen to a chorus of fishermen sing “blow the man down” –referring to the shoving of a man to the bottom of a boat, either accidentally or on purpose. And that is where the seemingly simple story begins.
The town’s fish market owner is dead, leaving behind a debt-ridden shop, a house in foreclosure, hospital bills, and two twenty-something daughters with very different expectations: Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor). Priscilla stayed in Easter Cove while the more rebellious Mary Beth went away to college. She reluctantly returned home when their mom got sick. Both Mary Beth and Priscilla have now had their dreams derailed.
The deceased mother’s three AARP-age friends gather to remember cherished details of their relationship with her: Suze (June Squibb), Doreen (Marceline Hugot) and Gail (Annette O’Toole). Not present is Enid (Margo Martindale), which seems curious but, as we learn later, not unexpected.
Is Blow the Man Down going to be a cozy mystery with a comfy feeling about a sweet little threesome of elderly women who like to have tea and gossip? Just a simple story with everything on a straight line until the end? Easter Cove almost immediately turns claustrophobic. Another reminder we are in “Murder She Wrote” territory. Three murders take place within a week.
Blow the Man Down is about sisterhood and the lengths to which sisters will go for each other, even when their better instincts say they shouldn’t. Easter Cove is filled with women, young and old, who have their own dark secrets in a circle of superficially friendly grit and darker compromises.
In an early scene a man chases a screaming young woman through the snow as Enid coldly watches through the window. We wonder who she is watching and why Enid is not responding to the young woman’s obvious fight for her life.
Saylor and Lowe are amusing in their depictions of desperation and cluelessness, occasionally reminiscent of Woody Allen and the Coen brothers. And although the two major characters are the young millennial sisters, it is the babyboomer females who hold the screen. Margo Martindale (of “The Americans” and “Justified” among others) is a quiet scream as Enid, the protagonist-snake who is the source for the community’s original sin. And June Squibb (who, in “Nebraska”, memorably straddles over a former boyfriend’s grave and mocks his spirit with “See what you could have had”) is delightful as the town’s action-oriented matron who turns out to be more than the white-haired old biddy the viewer is expecting. Locals always take care of their own.
The acting is solid, the plot perhaps lacking backstory in character development, but the cinematography capturing the foggy and salty experience of fish guts and turbulent waters evokes Maine’s rugged yet insular coastal villages. Close-ups of a fish-gutting knife and a Sisters’ brand pancake box alongside ocean waves, –lots of ocean waves–underscores the tone…and humor.
Eminently watchable during these sequestered, streamable times.
Note: Available on Amazon Prime (original series).