Combustible Celluloid
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With: Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Annette O'Toole, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Gayle Rankin, Skipp Sudduth, Marceline Hugot, Kendray Rodriguez, Will Brittain, David Coffin, Thomas Kee
Written by: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
Directed by: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, sexual material and brief drug use
Running Time: 91
Date: 03/20/2020

Blow the Man Down (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Give Them Some Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It begins with a bold, harmony-laced rendition of the old sea shanty; you may have heard Popeye (or Bluto) singing it, but this version lends it a new gravity. As Blow the Man Down continues, a woman in a small Maine fishing village called Easter Cove has died. Her daughters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Pris (Sophie Lowe) Connolly, who have spent a year caring for her, are hosting the funeral reception. A team of gossipy matriarchs say how much they loved the girls' mother. They seem harmless, but it turns out this group wields a great deal of power in town.

That night, Mary Beth goes out to a bar and lets herself get picked up by a man. He's something of a lowlife, and when Mary Beth finds bodies in his trunk, she tries to get away from him. He winds up dead, stabbed with a trident. Mary Beth calls on Pris to help, and they realize they must cut up the body so that it can fit in a cooler before they dump it in the ocean. Pris has brought her trusty fillet knife. But when they get home, the knife has gone missing. Mary Beth goes back to look for it, and instead finds a bag full of money.

That's the beginning of this admirably serious, straightforward crime story, done without the winking slyness of Tarantino or the Coen brothers. It's the feature debut of writing and directing team Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, and it's an assured one. The women use their unique locale to maximum effect, bringing in the chilly weather, the smell of fish, and the ruddy small town vibe, with an expert touch. They have also delivered a crime story that is driven almost exclusively by female characters, and without drawing any attention to that fact. It just is.

But the thing that makes the movie better than good is the character of Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale), who runs the town brothel and also seems to hold quite a bit of power over the town, though not over the other old ladies (played by June Squibb, Anette O'Toole, and Marceline Hugot). They have some kind of dark history together, and their power games have never stopped. Martindale's sense of motherly menace, as she lumbers around in huge, black shawls and a black cane, is great fun in spite of itself. If there are any Oscars next year, she deserves consideration for Best Supporting Actress.

Blow the Man Down moves through its complex web quietly, aided by more sea shanties and by a playfully ironic score by Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber, turning over new bits of information in scenes of hushed conversations, with the threat of gossip hanging around every corner and every eave. It carries a real-world weight, but it never forgets to provide tingly, illicit fun. It will debut on Amazon Prime, and it's worth adding to your queue.

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