Blow the Man Down review – salty noir plays like Fargo-on-Sea

Writing-directing duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy craft a gripping mystery that doubles as an impressive calling card

It begins with the titular sea shanty, sung against a stunning blue horizon, and our lead singer, a fisherman, turning straight to the camera and winking. On this evidence you’d be forgiven for thinking Blow the Man Down, the debut from writing-directing duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, was headed for a whole world of quirk. Yet this atmospheric opener is otherwise atypical of what will emerge as a not-so-whimsical but darkly comic noir – compelling to the very end, even as it becomes far too plotty for its own good.

Salty tales are experiencing a resurgence right now, and Blow the Man Down follows two notable recent entries in this fishy sub-genre – Mark Jenkin’s Cornwall-set Bait and Robert Eggers’ maritime nightmare The Lighthouse – in a bid to tell yet another twisted sea story. Positioned somewhere between a Coen brothers film and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, with just a little Wes Anderson thrown in for good measure, it’s a deadpan murder mystery told with a subtly feminist kick.

In Maine’s Easter Cove, the untimely death of their mother has left sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) lumped with debt and a general sense of directionlessness. After the funeral, Mary Beth heads to a bar, intent on drowning her sorrows, and picks up a handsome stranger. By the time she realises something isn’t quite right, it’s too late: one altercation (and a precisely aimed harpoon) later, blood has been spilt. And so together these sisters must cover their tracks, unaware this incident will bring some dark truths about the town to the surface, implicating a host of interesting characters (a brilliant Margo Martindale among them) concealing secrets and murky motives.

As cars pass through snow-covered suburbs, a body is squeezed into a tight container, and somebody stumbles upon a bag of money, it’s hard not to recall the twisty delights of Fargo. But this film – more playful, reality slightly weirder – doesn’t have the air of imitation. The blustery port town is so vividly and confidently rendered it feels like a living, breathing place the moment we step ashore. Finding a vibe at once contemporary and classic whilst shooting for a retro aesthetic (check out that title card and the grainy cinematography), it’s impressive just how much texture Cole and Krudy give to their locale in 90 minutes.

As the story spins outward, and more characters are drawn into the conspiracy, the film comes to form a tapestry of a small town and its inhabitants, from middle-aged women, to prostitutes, to cops, all of whom are hiding secrets of their own but whose ties are not easily sussed (Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” comes to feel like an apt point of reference). More surprisingly, perhaps, is that the slow reveal of Easter Cove’s dark underbelly doesn’t make the fishy dishes, cosy jumpers, and dimly-lit bars any less appealing to us as viewers. Meals look homely and delicious; houses have a warm and inviting aesthetic. You kind of want to go here.

Ultimately the film doesn’t quite arrive at the bold climax you might expect, and the story complicates itself to a needless extent, given the short runtime. Yet as a calling card – and a signal of great things to come – this is exactly the sort of debut that instantly sells you on whatever it is this talented writer-director pair decide to do next.

Blow the Man Down is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

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