Monday, March 23, 2020

Blow the Man Down Is a Thoroughly Unique Dark Comedy

Sisters Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) already had enough on their plate. These residents of a small seaside Maine town have been grappling with the death of their mother as well as all the financial responsibilities of their home. But then things got even more complicated the night of their Mother's funeral. On that fateful evening, Mary Beth had an encounter with a dangerous man whose car trunk indicated he had been busy murdering women. Evading this man's clutches eventually entailed Mary Beth murdering this dude with a harpoon. In the wake of this grisly act of self-defense, Mary Beth enlists the help of Priscilla to help her cover up the murder.

With the help of a larger cooler and a knife, the two of them proceed to dispose of the body in hopes of that providing an immediate end to this grisly saga. Unfortunately for them, their worries have only begun. Turns out they've become embroiled in a larger crime saga involving their deceased mom and local brothel-owner Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale). Being a dark comedy about a murder in a small Northern U.S. town, Blow the Man Down will inevitably draw up Coen Brothers comparisons. While writer/directors Danielle Krudy & Bridget Savage Cole may have used the works of that duo as creative inspiration, Blow the Man Down has ended up as something that's decidedly its own delightful entity.

Part of how Blow the Man Down so clearly establishes its own identity is in how it embraces distinct elements related to its primary setting. Chief among those elements is recurring sea shanties sung by a gaggle of fishermen. The lyrics of these tracks tend to function as a sort of Greek Chorus as well as helping to echo whatever personal woes are transpiring for Mary Beth & Priscilla. You don't often get movies with sea shanties but Blow the Man Down makes a good case for why they should be more common. Sea Shanties fit right into a story set in a small seaside locale and that environment turns out to be another way Blow the Man Down emerges as so memorably unique.

Krudy & Cole's script creates its own expansive world in a seemingly trivial small town. Everybody's got their own story to tell here, from a trio of women (one of whom is played by the iconic June Squibb) looking to close down Devlin's brothel to Devlin's employee Alexis (Gayle Rankin) to a pair of police officers investigating the inciting murder incident. The writing manages to juggle all of these storylines while striking an important delicate balance. Specifically, that balance entails giving everyone in the cast enough to do while also making sure the project doesn't come across as rushed. In addition to maintaining that crucial balance, Krudy & Cole's writing also establishes a large number of distinct personalities even in the most throwaway of characters, like an amusing husband who dropped his spoon.

Blow the Man Down isn't just commendable on a writing level, though. In visual terms, this is also a well-done endeavor from top-to-bottom. For starters, Krudy & Cole's direction demonstrates real craftsmanship. Their work behind the camera, as well as Todd Banhazl's cinematography, is key to helping accentuate a number of darkly comical visual gags. There's a wicked sense of humor to the proceedings that's nicely translated through this camerawork. Similarly excelling on a visual level is the remarkable editing by Marc Vives. There are some super well-timed pieces of editing here that prove crucial to Blow the Man Down executing its tension-laced aesthetic. The editing also helps to provide unity across the disparate storylines as Vives manages to have Mary Beth slamming a door cut directly to, say, Alexis opening a door.

This type of editing helps to remind viewers of how connected this sprawling cast is serves as a critical reason for Blow the Man Down's aforementioned ability to handle all of these storylines without stumbling in the process. Also aiding this essential part of the production is the stellar work by the cast, with the real stand-out being Margo Martindale. She reminds us all why she's a character actor legend with her work here as she manages to deliver an intimidating gangster performance that could go toe-to-toe with Al Pacino on any day of the week. Even when she's simply sitting and getting her hair done, Martindale communicates a sense of authority you never wanna cross. It's a memorable performance, one of many similar qualities to be found in the marvelously creative dark comedy Blow the Man Down.

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