Silver Linings Dept.: I had already planned to sneak in a quick review of “Blow the Man Down,” a Down East noir that’s debuting on Amazon Prime this Friday without the benefit of a theatrical release. Maybe I could wedge it in between the much-hyped horror movie sequel and the Sundance audience award winner, or maybe save it for my Sunday column. But COVID-19 has shuttered all the movie theaters, the horror sequel’s on ice, and the writing-directing debut of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy gets the full splash treatment as this weekend’s sole “new release.”
Which is fine, because the movie’s pretty great — not quite “Fargo” with lobsters but close enough, and about as good as regional filmmaking gets. Filmed in Harpswell, Maine and environs — the cobwork of Bailey Island Bridge curves through one scene — “Blow the Man Down” delves cleverly and suspensefully beneath the surface of a small, well-appointed fishing town in winter. There are bodies and there is blood. There are also a lot of quietly furious women.
And just for the hell of it, there’s a choir of lobstermen wandering through singing sea chanteys in gorgeous a cappella harmony. Because why not?
The movie opens with the funeral of Mary Margaret Connolly, who has left her grown daughters with a dusty fishmonger’s shop in town and a childhood home they can’t afford. Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) has always been the good daughter, devout and dedicated to keeping the old life going. Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor of “Homeland”) is the red-haired rebel, not happy that she’s had to drop out of college to help care for her mother and itching to get out of Easter Cove.
Mary Beth has a thing for bad boys, the kind her mother warned her about. But her mother’s dead, and when she leaves a bar with a handsome creep (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), things go south and suddenly there’s a body to dispose of. Good thing sister Priscilla has a way with a boning knife.
That’s just some of the doings in Easter Cove. The picturesque Oceanview Bed and Breakfast? It’s actually the local whorehouse, run with an iron fist by the town’s matriarchal queen-pin Enid Devlin (Margo Martindale, having a high old time with the regional accent). One of Enid’s girls has gone missing, and the girl’s bad-luck best friend (Gayle Rankin), between turning tricks at the local fishing dock, is worried that she’ll be next.
There’s a dirty old town cop (Skipp Sudduth) and his new partner (Will Brittain), a nice young local boy who’s possibly too smart for his own good. There’s $50,000 in a “Lobsta Lookout” take-out bag. And, hallelujah, there are three busybodies, Susie (June Squibb of “Nebraska”), Doreen (Marceline Hugot), and Gail (Annette O’Toole) — sweet, sharp, and sour, respectively, and hell-bent on running their old friend Enid out of town.
Aside from the two policemen and the shady manager of the town dock (Thomas Kee), “Blow the Man Down” is largely free of men. They’re out on the boats, it’s implied, or upstairs with Enid’s girls; when Susie’s clueless husband (Neil Odoms) wanders into the room, she gives him a clean fork and sends him back to the Patriots game. It’s the women who take care of business in Easter Cove, and much of that business involves taking care of the men.
Cole (who grew up in Beverly) and Krudy (who’s from Ohio) have written a taut, droll script, and they direct with a minimum of fuss; the movie’s relatively low-budget but cleanly told, with the tick-tick-tick suspense score by Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber the only hand that’s overplayed (or maybe it’s just over-mixed).
For all the milling about, our sympathies stay with the sisters. Lowe, long and lean, has a small-town elegance that hides a spine of flint, while Saylor is smaller, more impulsive and explosive, with a bright red woolen cap that makes her head seem ready to detonate (which it is). Between them, they convey every reason you’d want to get out of a town like Easter Cove and every reason you might want to stay, which is to say that Priscilla and Mary Beth hate and love each other as only sisters can.
“Blow the Man Down” sets that dynamic in a world of weary women who take power where they can hide it, whether it’s Enid in her madame’s mink coat or the three old townswomen who, at the end of the day, know where all the bodies are buried. They also know what Priscilla and Mary Beth are only just learning — that sometimes you have to use honey to get through the day, and sometimes it’s better to use a harpoon.
Blow the Man Down
Written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. Starring Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Margo Martindale. On Amazon Prime. 91 minutes. R (language, some violence, sexual material, brief drug use)