The thriller surprises and subverts typical storylines
Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s feminist thriller Blow the Man Down, currently available on Amazon Prime, opens on a fishing boat anchored in Easter Cove, Maine. As we listen to the resonant voices of a men’s group singing the old sailing ballad “Blow the Man Down,” we see images of a fishing port, including lobster cages, dead fish, severed fish heads, a fish speared through the eyes. The message: This is a brutal, male place.
Our view shifts abruptly to the women of the town, most importantly Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly (beautifully portrayed by Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor), young adult sisters who have just lost their mother. The camera also points out three important women at the funeral service, all older women, friends of the deceased Mrs. Connolly.
BLOW THE MAN DOWN ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Written by: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Starring: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Margo Martindale, Annette O’Toole
Running time: 91 min.
A fourth older woman, played by Margo Martindale (The Americans) is not at the funeral. She’s watching a man chase a young woman through the snow, catch her, and pull her violently to the ground. This is Enid and she runs the local whorehouse.
At the reception following the funeral mass, Mary Beth discovers that their mother was in debt, they’re losing the house, and there is no money for her to go to the college as she’d planned. She goes on a drinking binge and picks out the worst of companions at the local bar: Gorski, a guy who works at the whorehouse with Enid.
Mary Beth and Gorski end up at the docks where he lives. She accidentally sees evidence of a murder in the trunk of his car: blood, hair, keys. She freaks out, he tries to control her, and she runs into a maze of lobster cages and crab pots as he stalks her.
This is when my whole body tensed for the onslaught of violence toward women I’ve been programmed to expect on screen. I braced myself for a rape, a New England fishing-town version of the attack in Thelma and Louise. But that’s not what happens in a film written and directed by these two women.
Instead, we see Gorski get what’s coming to him — without Mary Beth’s physical assault. Imagine a film that has a scary scene and a gruesome murder of the bad guy without traumatizing the audience by making them watch a woman be violated. It’s so novel!
Are you thinking, “So it’s ok to see a man’s murder, but not a woman’s rape?” Remember that not so many people are survivors of attempted murder. Most women (and many other folx) survive attempted sexual assault, and one in six women is a rape survivor. One of these scenarios is far more triggering for audiences. And one of these scenarios has been directed in a titillating fashion throughout the history of cinema, normalizing and sexualizing rape instead of presenting it as a violent crime. I’m going to acknowledge and celebrate when filmmakers choose not to do that.
Mary Beth’s lack of harm is the reason the sisters aren’t sure that calling the police is the right move. In the throes of an adrenaline letdown after a drunken bender, Mary Beth is not 100 percent certain she acted in self defense, even though the audience is. This sets in motion a cover-up that will, of course, go wrong. Everything chucked into the sea eventually washes up on the shore. Murder weapons that go missing always come back to haunt, especially when they’re engraved with the killer’s family name.
The body that washes up the next day isn’t Gorski’s, though. It’s the sex worker we saw Gorski catch early in the film. The police investigate, but the women of this town are manipulating and deceiving the male cops at every turn. It’s not so much the young Connolly sisters, so much as their mother’s older friends. Three of these women (wonderfully played by June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, and Annette O’Toole) have their own ideas of justice. They confront Enid and try to get her to shut the whorehouse down. And they try to lure one of “her girls” (Gayle Rankin of GLOW) away from her.
Crudy and Cole also prove that it’s possible to show the struggles and fears of a young sex worker without objectifying and abusing her on screen. You’d think, after decades of watching men direct the Hooker With the Heart of Gold trope, that it couldn’t be done. But it can! (I bet it wasn’t even hard to do.)
As Priscilla and Mary Beth begin to learn about their own mother’s involvement in the town prostitution ring, they realize they have accidentally started a serious feud with Enid that they need to resolve. Enid threatens to turn them in for Gorski’s murder, but the message isn’t so much “I’ll bring in the authorities,” as it is “I can turn you over to the brutal world of men, or we can keep this business in the quiet, more reasonable world of women.”
Don’t underestimate these women
Well-paced, well-scored, and beautifully shot, this feminist thriller is not an anti-male film. It’s a film that acknowledges that women often function on their own level. They do what’s needed, sacrifice what must be sacrificed, so that there can be an acceptable level of peace and justice.
Enid has a wonderful line: “A lot of people underestimate young women. That’s why they get away with a lot.” As the film points out in its final montage, people underestimate older women too. Let’s not underestimate these filmmakers. They’re pretty freaking talented.