Buoy bells ring, gulls warble and gentle waves lap against waterlogged wood. A lineup of anonymous lobstermen intones sonorously:

Give me some time to blow the man down

To me, weigh hey

Blow the man down

Give me some time to blow the man down.

This gruff Greek chorus of overalls-clad, harpoon-wielding mariners serves as the opener to “Blow the Man Down,” the debut feature film of writing-directing duo Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. The singing seamen bob in and out of the narrative, belting out a number of 1800s sea shanties as a tale of murder, secrets and shady small-town politics unfolds.

“Blow the Man Down” is set in the fictional town of Easter Cove, Maine, a pitch-perfect sleepy seaside town decorated with dimly lit fishermen’s pubs, stacks of rusty lobster cages and old shanty houses that creak with the wind and shift with the waves. The town is one of those quaint, out-of-the-way places where most people seem to know one another. Old women gossip; portly cops focus more on sweet treats than crimes; angsty teens yearn to just get out of there. Filmed in the real coastal village of Harpswell, Maine, “Blow the Man Down” possesses a naturalistic feel that belies the seedy goings-on of Easter Cove — it’s not just chitchat, donuts and wanderlust. No, in Easter Cove old women run brothels, portly cops are easily swayed and angsty teens cover up crimes most foul.

Said angsty teen is Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor, “We the Coyotes”), who’s in town staying with her fishmonger sister Priscilla (Sophie Lowe, “Waiting for the Miracle to Come”). Her crime most foul? Harpooning a guy in the throat.

Their mother had just died, so she’s got a lot of that aforementioned angst and just wants to head to college already (having been stuck in my parents’ home for a couple weeks now, I can firmly say: same here). Pair this headspace with some booze, flirtations with a creep, the discovery that said creep has bits of hair and blood in his trunk, and the next thing she knows there’s a harpoon in her hands and a man’s neck curiously stuck to the other end. Deserved? Probably. But was it murder? Manslaughter? Justified self-defense? The Connolly sisters aren’t about to find out, and thus ensues a mad caper to make a bad thing go away (one that involves carving knives, a cooler, an anchor and a lot of duct tape).

The performances by Saylor and Lowe are delicate and believable — equal parts love and utter annoyance, like any good sibling relationship — as they grapple with the accelerating circumstances. They’re everyday, painfully plain people, and human harpooning is painful but certainly not plain. The sisters are the focus of the film, but they are just one piece in an intricate underbelly populated by a bevy of agential women who deal with the fallout of Mary Beth’s mistake. Esteemed character actress Margo Martindale (“Instant Family”) plays the acerbic matron of the local B&B bordello, both protective and controlling of her girls, while Annette O’Toole (“A Futile and Stupid Gesture”), June Squibb (“Ralph Breaks the Internet”) and Marceline Hugot (“The Happy House”) play a trio of WASPy matriarchs with a sweet sort of can-I-speak-to-the-manager wit.

This web of agents — the confused and out-of-their-depth sisters, the resourceful madame, the busybody housewives — speaks to a subtle form of female empowerment. So many thrillers feature abused women, chopped-up women, scared and helpless women. In “Blow the Man Down,” women may not be the cops, but they certainly control them. They chop those who would chop them, save those who need saving. Women are allowed to be righteous, conniving, scared, murderous — all in equal measure.

By the end of it, it’s not burly, non-diegetic men who descant that last concluding shanty, but the women who hum it in their own quietly affecting way:

Weigh hey, blow the man down

If you ain’t into sinnin’ go live off the land

Give me some time to blow the man down

Give me some time to blow the man down.

“Blow the Man Down” is ultimately a quiet film, more interested in the delicate Machiavellianism of behind-the-curtain actors than the blood and thrills of your regular tale of murder and mystery. For some, that might translate as boring. But for others, this film proves its seaworthiness with aplomb, and they should keep their  eyes peeled for Krudy and Cole’s next feature film.

 

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