Margo Martindale, so unforgettable in her Emmy-winning turn as a rural crime family matriarch, turns in another stunning performance in Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s indelible feature debut. Ingeniously constructed, this black comic thriller melds murder with keen observation of life in a small town full of secrets.
Sisters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) finds themselves right in the thick of it when they discover the tiny New England fishing village that is their hometown is not the boring place where nothing ever happens that they have always thought it was. Instead, just below the surface, the sex industry thrives and a boiling cauldron of violent crime threatens the girls’ placid existence.
The siblings have just buried their mother, and their biggest problems are financial: They might lose their house and there is no money to send Mary Beth to college. Priscilla is content to run the family store, but Mary Beth is itching to leave home. Bitter when she discovers the true scope of the family’s finances, she makes a fateful decision to head to the local bar to get drunk and meets Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a bad man who opens her eyes a vicious reality.
Enter Martindale as Enid Nora Devlin, an old friend of Pris and Mary Beth’s mother who operates out of a “bed and breakfast” that is the town bordello and further runs hookers at the docks. The town elders, represented by Susie Gallagher (June Squibb), Doreen Burke (Marceline Hugot), and Gail Maguire (Annette O’Toole), want her business gone. One of her girls, Alexis (Gayle Rankin), has come to distrust her. The cops have traditionally kept their hands off her business, but the accommodating Coletti (Skipp Sudduth) has a new squeaky-clean partner in Priscilla’s old classmate Justin (Will Brittain), that could change things. It that weren’t enough, Enid suddenly finds herself with a cash flow problem.
Cole and Krudy frame their story with fishermen at the docks singing sea shanties, the initial one being the classic tune that lends the film its title. In a way, the song is both literal (within the bounds of modern slang, anyway) in reference to the story’s circumstances but it also sets a certain tone: In a town where so much is hidden, there are bound to be a lot fish tales.
Blow the Man Down is kind of a Nor’east Blood Simple or Red Rock West, sudden violence butting up against a deep well of humor, not all of it pitch black. The three old biddies are a kind of judgmental Greek Chorus, showing up at various times to harrumph over Enid’s moral failures while ignoring the fact that their own hands are none too clean. Priscilla and Mary Beth are naïfs – until they’re not, to the disappointment of Justin, harboring a crush on Pris. Alexis is caught between feeling the need to defend Enid and the growing realization that there is nothing to defend.
The film is ingeniously constructed. Cole and Krudy knit together multiple story strands so that Blow the Man Down‘s tone constantly shifts, tense now, now hilarious, now a blend of both, now oddly moving. The entire ensemble is terrific, with Martindale a standout as a woman who will stop at nothing to hold onto what’s hers but who still holds onto a small shred of humanity. With this impressive debut, Cole and Krudy have marked themselves as filmmakers with a bright, limitless future.