In high school, I became reasonably addicted to the works of Lois Duncan. Famous for penning mystery-thriller classics such as Killing Mr. Griffin, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Duncan made a name for herself by setting grisly genre stories in cozy small-town settings. Something about the concept of comfy suburbia gone seriously wrong has always appealed to me, and maybe that’s because I know it to be true, as do many of us. Remove the veil of order and serenity and you’ll find a seedy underbelly—a hive of sinful activity. From Rear Window to Desperate Housewives, this setting and theme have remained at the heart of our best genre dramas for decades. I was more than relieved to see this very spirit live on in BLOW THE MAN DOWN, the latest noir-mystery from writer-director team Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. While the film carries on many of the traditions from the likes of Lois Duncan, it also repurposes them for a modern context—which in turn instills the themes and tropes with a newfound sense of urgency and life.
The film’s story is set in the rough and ragged fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine. This is the kind of picturesque town that comes to mind when one is told a seafaring fisherman’s tale—rife with odd characters and a biting chill that seeps deep down to your bones. Sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Pris Connolly (Sophie Lowe) are two denizens of this briny place and are coming to terms with the death of their mother. Along with a sobering sorrow, the women also inherit their mother’s sizable financial debt. Little do the sisters know, this is to be only the beginning of their troubles, as Mary Beth soon finds herself in a grim situation. While knocking back drinks one night, Mary Beth encounters a shifty stranger with whom she decides to spend the evening with. The vibe is all sorts of bad right from the start, and as the red flags quickly begin to appear, Mary Beth begins to realize she’s landed herself in a hellish trap set by this creepy dude. After noticing what appears to be blood and strands of human hair in the stranger’s vehicle, Mary Beth’s survival instincts kick in, and she prepares to do whatever it takes to flee from the man. In a fear-induced panic, Mary Beth ends up attacking the man with a harpoon, impaling him through the neck, and ultimately killing him.
This inciting event is expertly crafted and sets the stage for the remainder of the film. Cole and Krudy are careful to leave the audience with a sense of moral ambiguity—while it’s heavily suggested this man was a threat to Mary Beth, he also doesn’t directly harm her before he meets his gruesome end. This intentionally leaves us wondering if Mary Beth truly did the right thing or not. While we watch the character come to terms with her decision, we must also justify her actions in our own minds. Regardless of the logic behind the choice, Pris agrees to help her sister in covering up the incident, and they quickly discard the man’s body in the ocean. Days pass before the sisters learn the police have discovered a body that had washed ashore—only it’s not the body of the man Mary Beth killed.
This discovery thickens the plot and introduces us to Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale)—a local woman who runs a popular bed and breakfast. Like many elements of Easter Cove, Enid is not who she appears to be, and neither is her business. She’s a Godfather, or Godmother character of sorts, lording over the community’s sketchy underbelly via her bed and breakfast, which is actually a bordello. The body found by the police ends up being one of Enid’s girls, and as the plot continues to expand we’re clued into the many unsolved mysteries of Easter Cove. Question upon question will arise, and the film does its best to provide all the answers. If there’s a flaw to be found here, it’s that the film is often a bit too ambitious—aiming high, and sometimes falling just short of hitting its mark. This is my singular complaint, however, as all other aspects are precise and witty—brilliantly executed by the filmmakers. The cinematography is icy and subdued, and restraint is balanced harmoniously with shock and awe. The performances more than carry the film across the finish line, with Martindale’s intimidating Enid being a particular highlight. While the pacing doesn’t always fit the genre convention, it’s refreshing to see such a diverse and unique take on a tried-and-true formula. This is a story made by women, told through women, which gives BLOW THE MAN DOWN both a figurative and literal meaning. While the film struggles at times to compress all of its storytelling into its short runtime, it still makes for a compelling and exciting viewing experience. If noir-mysteries are your thing, this is an unmissable film—and for those who are just looking for a juicy drama to sink their teeth into, there’s plenty here for you as well. I highly recommend BLOW THE MAN DOWN as essential, quarantine-time viewing. BLOW THE MAN DOWN is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.