TIFF 2019: Blow the Man Down Review

Thanks to Highball.TV for sponsoring ThatShelf’s 2019 TIFF Coverage!

Raise your hand if Margot Martindale comes to mind as the first actor you’d expect to see cast as a badass pimp. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Martindale delivers a hoot of a performance decked out in a matronly fur coat and a pimp stick playing the manager of a seaside brothel in Blow the Man Down. This fine bit of stunt casting with the endlessly loveable character actor from August: Osage County, Paris, je t’aime, and Justified is just one of the many, many ways in which this wildly entertaining crime comedy from directors Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole turns conventions on their head. Blow the Man Down is a gender-flipped genre-spinning caper in the vein of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. This debut should do for Krudy and Cole what Blood Simple did for the brothers Coen as audiences find themselves punched in the face by the unexpected.

There’s a twist of Manchester By the Sea stirred into the clam chowder, too, as Blow the Man Down invites audiences to visit the seemingly innocent seaside town of Easter Cove, Maine as a family grieves. Sisters Mary Beth and Priscilla Connolly, played by Morgan Saylor and Sophie Lowe, are burying their mother and taking over the family fishmongering business. It’s not glamorous, but cuttin’ fish seems to be one of the few respectable ways to make a living in the little Podunk town where the only thriving business is the Oceanview “Bed and Breakfast” run by Enid (Martindale) where horny sailors and cheating husbands go to rattle some bones. Shit hits the proverbial fan in Easter Cove when Mary Beth goes on a post-funeral bender, gets close with a sleazy guy at the bar, and whacks him when all evidence indicates that he’s a violent perv.

This story unfurls in Movieland, though, so naturally the sisters chop him into bits and dump him into the sea, somehow avoiding the prying eyes of the town’s gossipy grannies. These three elders, played by June Squib, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot, run the town like the church potluck mafia. (A delightful comic trio, to say the least!) They aren’t fans of Enid’s operation and observe how the violence in their community—separate from Mary Beth’s incident but not unrelated—is a product of their willingness to turn a blind all to the deeds that men commit at the Oceanview and elsewhere.

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As the sisters wrestle with the moral burden of the crime, the fear of being caught, and the niggling suspicion that someone will come looking for that bag of money they scooped from the dead guy’s abode, Blow the Man Down humorously unfurls a great story of sisterhood. It’s an unlikely tale of female friendship as the bond between the Connolly girls is mirrored in Enid’s loyalty to their departed mother, her lone defender against the gaggle of grannies policing the townspeople’s morals without paying heed to their own virtues. The film also gives voice to victims of violence, women who are at risk in the day to day, as brings Enid’s “girls” into the fold to confront the town’s hypocrisy.

Krudy and Cole do a delicate dance with tone and tempo as Blow the Man Down straddles genre elements to create something familiar and altogether new. Music plays a crucial role in the film as the score by Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber laces the film with sinister comedic beats and fuels the dark atmosphere and off-kilter energy. The directors punctuate the film with traditional folk songs performed by the sailors in the town, who bellow from the sea in deep gravelly voices. Like a Greek chorus, they comment on the tragicomic violence that unfolds before our eyes. Most effective, however, is the performance of the folk song that lends the film its title. Three women sing it and as they whisper the haunting words to the song, they show us that there’s more to a small town than meets the eye when looking at its deceptively friendly exterior.

Blow the Man Down upends genre conventions boldly and brilliantly to create a darkly comic fable of the resilience of women. Few films do the gender flip as smartly or as productively as Krudy and Cole’s crime drama does. As the rising body count sends the town into a tizzy, Enid escalates the situation to retrieve her money and settle old scores. Martindale steals every scene in which she appears and never fails to miss a beat in the film’s whip smart screenplay and perfectly balanced tone of madcap mayhem. Strong performances by Lowe and Saylor provide Blow the Man Down with the moral centre it needs while straddling a genre that often requires sultry femme fatales to elevate male leads. Their lost innocence and headstrong desire to honour their mother make clear the stakes at hand in a world that too often sees women as sex objects or targets for violence.

Thanks to Highball.TV for sponsoring ThatShelf’s 2019 TIFF Coverage

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