Writer-directors Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole’s first feature Blow The Man Down is reminiscent of Fargo’s crime thriller setup and Twin Peaks’ nightmarish, bitingly cold American-small-town mystery. At the core of these cinematic homages and familiar formulas, however, is the film’s microscopic psychiatry of matriarchy that subverts the male-centered, patriarchal narrative of neo-noir’s genre storytelling.
The juxtaposition of male and female characterisations sets one of Blow The Man Down’s thematic keynotes, as the plot intensifies soon after Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor)— the impulsive, wide-eyed younger sibling among the film’s sister protagonists—proceeds with a regrettable fling with a dangerous, rapey man she met at the Maine seaside town’s dive bar. At the same bar, Mary Beth will later run into Enid Devlin (Margo Martindale), an old friend of the Connolly sisters’ late mother. The sisters’ mum and Enid used to run a brothel together before the former quit the business, which has since been left in the charge of Enid alone. Starting from both ominous encounters, Mary Beth and her older (also calmer and wiser) sister Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) embark together on a messy journey of covering up their own crime, while unexpectedly uncovering the deeper, dirtier business of this seemingly homely small town.
Krudy and Cole intentionally set up a neo-noir’s standard genre characterisation of an old-and-young, small-town buddy cop duo, with the emphasis on the young cop, Officer Justin Brennan (Will Brittain), a responsible and moderately capable detective. But Justin’s vision eventually gets blinded by his crush on Priscilla, which bestows a convenient advantage on the sisters’ coverup process. Meanwhile, Priscilla’s vision of using Justin’s crush for her own advantage becomes more and more astute throughout the timeline of their interactions.
But what is more singular and original of Krudy and Cole’s film is beyond this male/female juxtaposition, and lies within the complexity and multi-faceted nature of the female characters across generations. Blow The Man Down’s quintessentially feminine storytelling is not only to simply depict women’s power over men, but more daringly to blur the moral line between good and evil in the grey area of the feminine psyche. This storytelling is most distinguishably delivered by Margo Martindale’s show-stealing, larger-than-life portrayal of the self-serving Enid who trusts nothing other than money and herself.
But what could shake the core of the cold-blooded, materialistically oriented Enid is her bond with the Connolly sisters’ mum, when they both used to think they had to become detached and immoral to survive and thrive in “a man’s world.” Enid perceives their mom’s departure from the prostitution business as a betrayal of this two-women bond. At the same time, the turning point for the Connolly sisters’ mum in terms of her femininity and maternity comes when she becomes a mother of two daughters. The real matriarchy in Blow The Man Down does not reside in the Connolly sisters’ eventual coverup of their crime through manipulating the male power in this town, but the manifestation of their sisterhood bonding as an inheritance from their late mother, who made the right decision for herself as woman, and for her daughters as a mother.
In Enid’s generation, this Maine town was still “a man’s world,” where Enid had a materialistic place to hold onto, but no real place for the integrity of her womanhood to sustain. In the Connolly sisters’ generation, they have acquired a sober recognition of this town’s patriarchy. And in turn their determined solidarity in protecting each other has covertly— yet steadily, shaped this town’s matriarchy. The recurring motif in the film of the town’s fishermen singing the song “Blow The Man Down” has the literal subversive meaning against patriarchy. Here, the underlying, omnipresent seascape behind them is a visual metaphor of the slowly encroaching matriarchal base formed across generations of mother and daughters.
Blow the Man Down is available to stream now on Amazon Prime
by Weiting Liu
Weiting (she/her) is a cinephile and television/entertainment/pop culture enthusiast freshly graduated with her Master’s degree in Film Studies. She is currently based in Los Angeles planning on continuing her academic pursuit in the Doctorate studies of sociopolitical Chinese/East Asian cinema. She is also passionate about freelance writing of film/television criticism regarding the topics of race, gender and intersectionality in contemporary America. Her most recent favourite films are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Last Black Man In San Francisco and A Ghost Story. All of her social media handles are @bangsongliu, though for now she is only very active on Instagram.