It's not technically a Greek chorus, but the collection of bearded old salts singing shanties as they load fish and haul rope make for a wonderful counterpoint in Blow the Man Down, Amazon's unusual low-budget mystery-comedy film. A first feature from writer-director team Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, Blow The Man Down isn't quite at a level of "Fargoin Maine," but there's good enough reason to make the comparison. Moreover, there's a center performance from Margo Martindale almost as juicy as Frances McDormand's in the Coen Brothers' classic.
We don't meet Martindale's Enid Devlin until we're well into the story (in fact, you'll do a solid "wait, how does she fit into all this?" at first) but before we get there we're with 20-something sisters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor, Homeland's maligned Dana Brody) Connolly. Their mother has just passed away in a small port community, and a trio of caring community seniors is there to help them settle affairs. (June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, and Annette O'Toole are all welcome faces you'll recognize even if you don't know their names.)
After an argument between the more prim Priscilla and extroverted Mary Beth (the former has been withholding information about their mother's debts), Mary Beth hits a local bar and gets picked up by a local scuzz. After a near-collision in his car, eyeing a gun in his glovebox and spotting weird blood stains in his trunk that might be from fish, she decides she's not interested in going home with him. When he turns violent, she defends herself, and kills him with a harpoon. (Hey, it's a nautical community.)
The sisters decided to chop up the body, shove it in a cooler, and dump it into rocky water. Problem solved? Hardly. The cops soon find a body washed ashore, and (thanks to some far-fetched logic) Priscilla is there when it is revealed. It isn't the barroom creep; it's a young woman.
Okay, back to Enid. Turns out that in the middle of this charming little town is a B&B with an extra B: a bed, breakfast, and brothel. And all the kind elderly ladies, including the girls' late mother, were involved in setting it up.
There are additional twists and turns that I'll leave for your discovery, but I should stress that even though the material (murder! theft! sexual slavery!) gets dark, there's still a poppy gloss over it all. Imagine Twin Peaks but just the goofy bits, none of the threats. (There's even a scene involving cherry pie.)
Without that edge, however, there's also not too much depth. This is very much a festival/low-budget affair, but a strong one.
The cinematography -- and not just the outdoor stuff -- is extraordinary. Martindale bounding into a room and dropping diss-bombs is a much-needed joy, and the two young leads are good, too. The two directors shoot them in a way in which they can appear their intended age one minute and, to great effect, quite young the next.
I don't know what the deal is with Maine! Between Stephen King and Murder, She Wrote are there really so many conspiratorial homicides? Either way, Blow The Man Down looks fun enough that I'd still like to visit.
TV Guide Rating: 3.5/5
Blow the Man Down premieres Friday, Mar. 20 on Amazon Prime Video.