Directed By Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Starring – Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale
The Plot – Welcome to Easter Cove, a remote and insular fishing village on Maine’s rocky coast. In this small town, bonds run as deep as the ocean and secrets are as thick as the morning fog. Each day, droves of men take to sea for the daily catch while a handful of women serve as the community’s powerful, albeit discrete, operators. Though the self-interested code of the town’s old guard has governed for years, our tale takes place as the tides are turning in Easter Cove. Mary Margaret Connolly (Linda Shary), a beloved and integral town matriarch, has just passed away. In the wake of her death, her daughters, Mary Beth (Saylor) and Priscilla (Lowe), face an uncertain future, haunted by bills and unpaid loans left behind. Priscilla tries to fill her mother’s shoes by taking over the family fish shop while her younger sister Mary Beth refuses to accept the new responsibilities. The sisters find themselves at odds, and Mary Beth stubbornly defends her dream of leaving town, even if it means abandoning Priscilla altogether.
Rated R for adult language, some violence, sexual material and brief drug use
– Absorbing setting. Similar to the atmospheric resonance that cast a spell over audiences in 1996’s “Fargo”, Cole and Krudy manufacture a conscience in their setting that is every bit distinct in aesthetical pulse as it is rich in breaking small town conventions. Working hand in hand with cinematographer Todd Banhazi’s methodical moving shot compositions, the film maintains an enveloping blue color scheme reflective of the surrounding water cultures, as well as the cloudy, convoluted secrets that many of the town patrons keep with them every day. In addition to this, even for a place that feels as geographical and personably as distant as anything else playing cinematically today, there’s a refreshing balance in the depiction of the town folks that make them feel anything other than unrefined hicks that we’ve come to expect from movies with a very distinct claustrophobic setting. You’ve heard how a setting in a film is often a character in the movie, but this one truly earns that designation, for the way its living, breathing substance is articulated alongside every character and action that plays as an ingredient into the town’s expanding dark history.
– Sharp duo of direction. Surprisingly, this is Cole and Krudy’s debut feature film, but for everything they lack in experience, they more than make up for in maintaining grasp in scale from the story that never slips away from them. The urgency and vulnerability within our two female leads is one that weighs heavily on the story’s conscience, picking apart each of their steps in a way that exposes their naivety, all the while preserving unpredictability in a narrative for us the audience. The duo also waste no time fleshing out the story and characters in a way that gives them a rich authenticity of feeling lived in, along with no shortage of historical significance to play into their every decisions. It casts definition to Easter Cove as a place that feels truly non-fictional, and preserves credibility to the way they brought every aspect of their production to life, to move as one cohesive unit within this frozen wasteland.
– Ladies night. This might be the definitive stage-stealing moment for actresses in a film this year, for the way male characters play such an ineffective role both in this production and in the story. With that said, the generational gap is equally displayed, with names young and old at the forefront of the film’s attention. For my money, Martindale easily steals the show, conveying a character who is methodically manipulative and smoothly stern. Margo, with a cool cane in tow, chews up as much scenery as she can get her hands on, and does so while sharing the stage with big names such as Annette O’Toole and June Squibb at her devilish disposal. Beyond her, I also enjoyed the diversity of performances between the youthful leads; Saylor and Lowe, that could’ve easily gotten lost in the shuffle for two sisters with identical settings and circumstances. Lowe’s character is the older, more pragmatic one, who would rather stretch her family’s roots in the town, while Saylor’s is the younger and more impetuous one with goals of escapism to feed into her college dreams. Their dynamic worked extremely well together, preserving a chemistry that makes them believable as sisters, all the while maintaining the consistency of acting that is easily the film’s strongest value.
– Musical conscience. There’s a unique spin to the movie’s musical accompaniment, which is displayed both in the film’s melodic score and soundtrack, for entirely different reasons. The vocal-helmed songs are performed a few times throughout the film, by a group of sailors rhythmically crooning about their own adventures at sea. This gives the film a hauntingly eerie presence, especially once details within the story are unraveled, that is only balanced by the eclectic strum of composer Jordan Dykstra’s emotionally piercing compositions. It’s interesting to note that while so many of the themes zero in and articulate much of the scene’s atmospheric tension, no two tracks ever sound remotely the same in conveying their message. They uncurl in a way that preserves complexity to instruments like the violin and the flute, to name a few, and feel solidified in illustrating much of the surrounding fisherman culture that dominates this east coast small town.
– Social commentary. Even for a film of fictional work that is as bizarre and distinct in its geographical setting, the abundance of real world presence renders itself over a town with its own methods of doing things. For “Blow the Man Down”, it’s in the way females are viewed by their male oppressor’s, often as harmless heads of the households, who aren’t capable of committing a crime. This allows much of the town’s darker issues to take shape from underneath the noses of the surrounding police officers, an angle that the ladies have no problem taking advantage of when it suits them. In addition to this, there’s also a play on manipulative control that one of the female characters in particular plays on her employees that I won’t spoil. I will just say that it’s another level of shaping and confinement that those in power make to those without it, and brings forth an air of familiarity that proves Easter Cove isn’t as far away geographically as it fictionally should be.
– Tonal evolution. Similar to the comparison that I made earlier with “Fargo”, the film’s balance of comical and dramatic elements is equally distributed in a way that makes each of them effective without hindering the other. Dark humor like this is always my cup of tea because it alludes to the chaos exerting itself when easily controllable elements get out of hand, and rolls down hill like an opposing force of nature. You can’t help but laugh at the despair that the character’s face, despite the horrendous tragedy that has just defined them. This in turn brings up the dramatic side of things, mostly in the form of Mary Margaret, who thanks to her own naivety in age, brings forth a conflict that leaves both of the sisters on edge constantly throughout the film. It’s an opposition that doesn’t lack stakes or imposition just because we are treated to a few instances of ice-breaking humor, and does solidify the air of permanency that proves there are consequences for matters that happen in this world.
– Expansive storytelling. For the first act of this movie, you start to perceive that the plot and characters are moving one way, when in reality it’s just the tip of the iceberg for where this story takes us. There are no fewer than ten different established characters throughout the film, and initially you see them scattered throughout, but as the film progresses you start to see how the pieces fit together, and how their inevitable intersecting nature will form when the time is right. For my money, I appreciated mostly when the film was just the two sisters hiding their one big mistake, but Cole and Krudy do have a kinetic way of merging every subplot together. So much so that it leads to a final thirty minutes where the dependency of everything and everyone involved depends on this one confrontation, and it’s in this aspect where the small town claustrophobia finally sinks in to a movie that has offered freedom for the characters until this point. They grow tighter when the narrative does.
– Grounded realistic pacing. This is the toughest sell to audiences, where even at 91 minutes of screen time, the pacing can sometimes feel a bit arduous, especially during a second act that produced some problems for me. Where I give the film a bit of a pass on its pacing, is the immersive quality that the production elements previously listed gave me in transforming this from a cinematic movie, and instead a momentary glance into a small town with many secrets. It’s one of those elements that moves in the same speeds that life does, preserving that air of authenticity that film very rarely grants us. Never can I say that I was bored by this film, but I can certainly say that it tested me when I waited for other subplots to catch up to the one that saw so much urgency in the two sisters’ one.
– Subplot distraction. This is where much of the pacing issues that I previously mentioned came into place. From a boredom perspective, this film has none, but in a screenwriting stance, much of the film’s second act construction could’ve used better smoothing out in the time allotted to the many engaging subplots at the time. There’s around twenty minutes in the film where we don’t see or hear from the sisters, instead choosing to focus on Martindale’s on-going issues with many of the town’s elderly for the way she has run her business into the ground. It’s not that this subplot isn’t engaging, because it is, it’s just that the consistency of focusing on this for so long proves how little the first act devoted to this angle, and requires more investment to balance it during this jumbled second act. It brings forth the biggest weakness in the film, and one that I wish the writers would’ve stitched together more naturally so that both sides are bouncing off of one another simultaneously, allowing the characters and their situations time to breathe in the minds of the audience.
– Flat ending. You point to a film like “The Platform” from earlier this year, where the ending halted so much of the progress of the film’s otherwise entertaining storytelling and hearty social commentary. In the instance of “Blow the Man Down”, I see the same problem plaguing audiences, as the film’s conclusive final moments is not only anti-climatic, but also lacking justification of the journey that we have taken along the way with these submerging subplots. Is it satisfying considering the resolutions? Sure, but the lack of struggle, big reveals , and last minute character inconsistencies, wipes away nearly all of the kinetic momentum that was articulated previously, and explores the safest avenue possible for a climax that should’ve supplanted a resounding weight for every side involved. Not as lifeless as the ending to the film I previously mentioned, but one that will inevitably influence your future re-watches of the movie because of such.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+