This Maine murder mystery brings the bait but can’t quite set its hook.
Blow the Man Down, which premiered this month on Amazon Prime, explores the politics and intrigues of a small fishing village in Maine. One many levels, it feels akin to other small-town crime dramas, such as Fargo or A Simple Plan. Unfortunately, it never quite rises to that level, despite showing flashes of inspiration.
Blow the Man Down (2020)
Pris (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) grapple with the aftermath of their mother’s death. To keep the family fish shop afloat, their mother heavily mortgaged the house and tapped into Mary Beth’s college fund. Now the sisters are at a crossroads: Pris trying to keep the family business alive while Mary Beth is desperate to leave their sleepy town at all costs. This desperation drives them into the middle of a violent conflict between the village matriarchs over old secrets.
The Devil and the Deep Blue See.
Off the bat, Blow the Man Down grabs you with its setting. The brutal majesty of the rugged coast contrasted with the simple and often tawdry life in a little fishing village open a world of possibility. Stylistically, directors Danielle Kurdy and Bridgette Savage Cole introduce their drama like a Greek tragedy, with a chorus of weathered fisherman periodically tolling out old sea shanties. It sets the stage, literally and metaphorically, for drama. Fitting for a Greek tragedy, we begin with a funeral as introduction to our main cast.
This film has a ton of depth to plumb. The small-town politics, mostly centered around the town’s most successful business – a brothel that everyone tacitly pretends is just a quaint bed and breakfast – is fraught with historical baggage. The fact that everyone besides Pris and Mary Beth are senior citizens deftly foregrounds the idea of a town where many old skeletons lurk in closets. Like the sisters, we’re dropped into a setting where we think we’re in the know, only to repeatedly find out we’re way out of our depth.
Green Around the Gills.
Despite so much promise, the film quickly finds itself becalmed. Blow the Man Down suffers from an often artless and workmanlike construction. Dialogue veers between dry explanation and clunky ellipsis meant to hint at deeper themes. Against this we get interminably long extreme close-ups, primarily of Pris, practically screaming “conflicted character!” Scenes are frequently arranged so a detail we need to know is walked in front of us seconds before we need it. The camera guilelessly lingers on important plot items in a bald manner.
Scrape the Hull.
It’s not all bad. We do get some good character building moments between Saylor and Lowe, and the supporting cast features some supremely talented women – Margo Martindale (August: Osage County,) June Squib (Nebraska), and Annette O’Toole (A Mighty Wind.) The sea shanties are great, managing a Coen Brothers-esque ability to feel dead serious and farcical at the same time. There’s just too much dead lumber in the script, making the good moments doubly frustrating as they never connect to each other.
The film only runs for an hour and half, but felt much longer. Making this vessel shipshape probably requires more than a remorseless editor. While I often found myself caught up in the story, I as frequently found myself struggling not to fast forward past all of the boring or poorly realized parts. Krudy and Savage Cole’s filmography consists mostly of short form work such as television and short films. This long form drama shows too many holes and rough patches to be seaworthy.