Going to the movies has always been a nice little escape from the world’s bleaker realities—but now, in the middle of a pandemic, we… can’t leave the house.
Lucky-ish for us, we’re living la vida loca in the streaming age. So while the big Hollywood studios shuffle their 2020 release schedules and AMC Theaters crumble to the ground, companies like Amazon find themselves uniquely primed (ahem) to provide sweet cinematic relief. Take that, Spielberg?
The newest film from the Bezos behemoth is a Coen-esque black comedy called Blow the Man Down. It’s the story of two sisters covering up a murder, though it becomes one of those “There’s more going on in this quaint New England town” movies pretty quick. There’s nothing as sinister as The Lottery happening, but drugs, predatory prostitution, and a little foul play show this ain’t Martha’s Vineyard either, kid. And while it’s not so derivative as to just be Fargo, Maine, writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy clearly took a page from our hometown boys.
Blow the Man Down kicks off with a rendition of its eponymous sea shanty, performed by a group of gruff fishermen. The Greek-chorus shtick always rings a bit too indie for me, but as a tone-setter, you can’t deny the effectiveness of grizzled modern Mainers belting out a ditty as they sling fish.
We’re soon introduced to a few of our key players, though we’re given very little context at first. Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly (Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor) mourn the death of their mother, while sorta-secret town madam Enid (esteemed character actress Margo Martindale) coolly watches the movie’s first murder unfold. Mary Beth gets wicked hammered at her mom’s wake, and after a spat with Priscilla, heads to the bar to make some bad decisions.
Mary Beth goes home with a stranger (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and spots blood and hair lining the trunk of his car. She bolts, trying to hide down by the docks, but realizes she needs to take matters into her own hands and harpoons her pursuer through the neck. Now, big sis Pris needs to help clean things up with her trusty knife.
There’s no mystery to the deed, so the fun’s in watching the sisters try to cover their tracks. It’s rare to see a thriller rely almost exclusively on female talent, and the approach offers more than a few fresh angles. “A lotta people underestimate women,” Enid says. “That’s why they get away with a lot.”
Savage Cole and Krudy aren’t trying to be too slick, though, which allows the story to sidestep some convoluted genre devices. You could see a bigger production playing a bit more with red herrings or dragging out the suspense. Instead, Blow the Man Down clips along at a cool hour and a half.
The flip side is that the movie can feel too simple and heavy-handed. While I have to think there’s some self-awareness to overdoing the Chekhov’s gun trope, I can’t help but think a subtle approach would have suited the narrative a bit better. And put up against Fargo or Thelma & Louise—undoubtedly inspiration—this flick feels lacking.
So Blow the Man Down won’t make a memorable splash, but you could do far worse for a quirky crime movie. And hey, it’s not like you’re going anywhere any time soon.
Starring: David Coffin, David Pridemore, Adam Wolf Mayerson