Writing and directing duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s low budget indie Blow the Man Down might be an incongruous blend of Coen brothers humour and Tarantino-esque spite but deep within the rotten core that makes up this black comedy crime caper is an utterly relatable question. Do we do bad things for the right reasons or are we doing those things because deep down, we are morally compromised already? Blow The Man Down might not be family-friendly but it is the twisted families and bankrupt communities that make this urban legend work.
Following the Connolly sisters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) after the death of their mother. While their small community of Easter Cove, Maine, grieves as well, they find themselves with only one another to protect each other. When Mary Beth does something that makes waves in their quiet little town, they find that the secrets of a small town are more than enough to drown them if they don’t look after each other.
Right from the start, Cole and Krudy’s story feels spiteful, a bubbling pot of unspoken rage, be it the Connolly’s anger at their mother for dying, Mary Beth’s resentment of Priscilla for being reasonably well adjusted or the constant sparring of a quartet of gossiping old women. Here words are more dangerous than violence, although there is enough of that to go around too. The more people talk, the more secrets spew out and this is where this fable entertains itself by going in some daring directions.
While the comedy thrives on the panicked reactions of two young women trying to break bad despite having no idea how to or any intentions beyond digging themselves out of a dark hole, it is the notion of history repeating itself that provides most of the morbid, pathological laughter. These women, from Priscilla to local inn owner Enid (Margo Martindale) are all struggling with their own actions and part of the fun is watching them play against their nature or the parts they have been typecast into.
June Squibb, for whom most will remember from Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, here fits the role of the quiet, sturdy treasurer, the one who knows where all the bodies are buried but for whom loyalty is more important. It is an abrupt turn from the usual nice old ladies she is pigeonholed into and for a limited presence, it provides quite a punch and one with a stinging satirical bite. Blow The Man Down carries with it a collection of impressive performances with the likes of Lowe and Saylor proving excellent leads but Martindale steals the show and provides much of the films resentful and strangely penitent heart.
The predominantly female cast manages to make a story about manipulation not only amusing but degrading, with some manipulations playing as entertaining twists, the kind of comic hijinks that feel amusing from the outside looking in. However, upon second glance, these choices seem like choices made by women trying to protect a community at risk because of the whims of men. What makes it all the more tragic is the men who do appear, the gentile rookie police officer Brennan (Will Brittain) and his ‘wise’ partner Coletti (Skipp Sudduth) are about as comforting and protective as a bed made of nails. The history and secrets that permeate this small town, although orchestrated by women seem entirely dependent on the uselessness of men. The humour of the film wraps itself around the idea of their absence or overwhelming mediocrity. Much like a fart in the cool New England wind, their presence is gone moments after they arrive.
In this community of fractured sisterhood, there are no saints or sinners, there’s just no time for it. Everyone is trying to survive, either to get somewhere better or just because it is what they have been doing all their lives. When the Connolly’s find themselves embroiled in the seedy underbelly of small-town living, they learn this the hard, yet deeply facetious way and it’s a privilege to watch.