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Blow the Man Down
★★★☆☆
First run Screening room

The début feature by the writing and directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, Blow the Man Down is a solid addition to the always enjoyable sub-genre of regional, small-town, neo-noir indies. Several factors set this film apart from its many siblings like Blood Simple, Blue Ruin, and the aptly named Small Town Crime, and its higher-budget cousins like A Simple Plan, A History of Violence, and Hell or Highwater. What’s most noticeably distinctive is the setting: a fictional remote fishing village in Maine called Easter Cove. The picture opens with a shot of the sea and the distinctive baritone voice of New England folk singer David Coffin belting out the sea shanty that gives the film its title. The camera pans over and we actually see Coffin singing directly into camera. He and the chorus of fisherman who soon join him are not characters in the narrative but act as a kind of Greek chorus that appears at each act break with a shanty that indirectly comments on the action.

While there are dozens of horror movies set in the state that birthed Steven King, outside of Todd Field’s masterful In the Bedroom I can’t think of another straight-up indie crime drama that takes place here. The fact that there is no “lobster-noir” subgenre seems like a missed opportunity since Maine is not only a fiercely independent state, it’s known as a place where life is hard for the folks who make their living from the land, the sea, or the tourists; where the division between the haves and the have-nots is especially high, and where locals living hardscrabble lives don’t pry into the potentially shady doings of their friends, neighbors, and business associates. All of this seems like ideal fodder for an abundance of narratives about small town sins.

The other thing that makes this grim, tight little picture unique is that all the main characters are all women. The story centers on two sisters, Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly, who have just buried their mother, a well-liked member of the dingy little town she and they grew up in. The characterizations of the two protagonists are fairly generic. Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) is the good, responsible daughter who dutifully took care of her sickly mother and took over running the family fish market where she’ll probably work all her life. Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) is the resentful rebel daughter, who had to drop out of college to help take care of her mother and can’t wait to leave town now that this chore is no longer required. Both actresses quickly make their somewhat clichéd characters real and relatable.

Another group of women play a major role in the film, as they do in the village. A prim and proper small-town matriarchy played by June Squibb (in a wonderfully low-key performance), Annette O’Toole (always a welcome screen presence) and Marceline Hugot (an actress I’m unfamiliar with). They seem to run the place with a puritanical but pleasant efficiency. Like almost every film I’ve ever seen set in Maine, all the main characters are either well under thirty or well over sixty, which helps to subtly define the limited choices for women who grow up and choose to stay in small communities like this one. 

Outside of the shanty chorus, there aren’t many men seen in Easter Cove—they are mostly out fishing—but this seaside town was clearly organized long ago by its women around the activities of its men. The most thriving local business is a Bed and Breakfast that was long ago transformed into a whorehouse as a way of keeping order for the decent local folk, and for providing an independent living for the local women. The madam who presides over this enterprise is Enid Devlin, played with scene-stealing gusto by Margo Martindale, an actress that’s never given a bad turn on screen, Martindale sinks her teeth into this juicy part without crossing the line into caricature.

The story centers on an investigation into the murder of a girl who worked for Enid and the cover-up of another murder (though it could have been self-defence) that Priscilla and Mary Beth get themselves wrapped up in. At 91 min, the picture has the leanness and not entirely satisfying conclusion we expect from this type of low-budget indie. But it’s pacing is pleasurably deliberate, with information and backstory slowly doled out like extra thick chowder that needs to cool down before we dig in. There are a few too many contrivances in the script, but the direction is rock solid. I look forward to seeing what this team tackles next.

Twitter Capsule: 
A grim, tightly wound, female-driven, small-town-crime indie that utilizes its distinctive Maine setting so well it makes a case for a "lobster-noir" sub-genre. Solid cast all-around, featuring a deliciously villainous turn by Margo Martindale.

Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Produced by Drew Houpt and Alex Scharfman

Written by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy

With: Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Annette O'Toole, Marceline Hugot, Gayle Rankin, Will Brittain, Skipp Sudduth, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and David Coffin

Cinematography: Todd Banhazl
Editing: Marc Vives
Music: Brian McOmber and Jordan Dykstra

Runtime: 91 min
Release Date: 20 March 2020
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color