So much of what makes the debut feature from writing/directing team Bridget Savage Cole (The Distance Between the Apple and the Tree) and Danielle Krudy is its sense of place. There is no doubt in my mind that the fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine, is a real place, and somehow that makes everything that happens in its borders—and in the film Blow the Man Down—make perfect sense. Peppered with real-life sea shanties sung by a kind of Greek chorus, the film begins with the funeral of an elderly woman who leaves behind two grown daughters, Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor of White Girl and Novitiate) and a host of secrets about herself and their small town, including the fact that she was on the verge of losing her home and small fishing business.
The elder daughter Sophie was aware of the situation and kept Mary Beth in the dark; when the latter finds out at the wake, she runs away and goes on a bender at the local bar, where she meets a charming but sleazy fisherman Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), whom she ends up killing (mostly by accident) by the end of the night. The sisters do their best to cover up the death, and eventually cut up his body using their expert fish deboning skills, placing his body parts in a large cooler and dumping it in the ocean. By sheer chance, another body—this one of a young woman—washes up on shore, and a murder investigation begins by the local police, including Officer Justin Brennan (Will Brittain). The sisters are acting so squirrely about their own murder that Brennan begins to suspect them of something, but he’s a bit distracted by the fact that he has a crush on Priscilla.
As it turns out, the dead girl was a known prostitute who worked in the town’s (largely sanctioned) brothel, run by Enid (the great Margo Martindale), who also happened to be a close friend of the Connolly girls’ recently deceased mother. But a group of similarly aged women—played by a virtual Mt. Rushmore of great talent that includes June Squibb, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot—have been pushing for some time to get the brothel closed and are using the murder as an excuse to reinvigorate their efforts. During this turmoil in Easter Cove, we learn about the town’s dark past, and not only why the brothel has been allowed to stay open for so long but also the reason it opened in the first place, which is genuinely fascinating.
The cast is tremendous at both conveying a sense of urgency in the matter of the murder while also not seeming to be in a tremendous hurry to get it solved because it might disrupt the order of long-held traditions. Things get ugly at times, but there never stops being a quaintness to the proceedings that makes you suspicious and cozy at the same time. The story is structured so that the audience always knows more than any one person in the movie, and this Coen Brothers-like technique is the perfect atmosphere in which good people might get caught up in something ugly, while bad people are allowed to carry on a bit too long. And the fact that the main cast is almost entirely female (as are the two directors) only opens up the possibilities of how the filmmakers can play with gender roles and expectations.
You can almost smell the overwhelming aroma of salt water and fish in the air, and it’s the perfect sensory accompaniment to Blow the Man Down, which is loaded with nuance, tension and a mystery that is well worth diving into. The chilling final few moments of realization are what really drove home for me what a terrific work this is and how great the cast is at working to make it a genuinely suspenseful effort. The film is streaming now on Prime Video.