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Block Island Sound, The
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by Jay Seaver

"There's always something dangerous under the surface."
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I don't know that anybody will be going to movies to just see whatever is playing next for a while, or if this will have the sort of distribution where it's an option, but I love the idea that someone might buy a ticket for "The Block Island Sound", figuring it's some sort of rock and roll story, only to discover it's a horror movie, maybe about some sort of subsonic noise that drives men mad. It's none of that, but it is a pretty darn nifty little thriller that makes the most of what it's got.

It opens with a disoriented man (Neville Archambault) coming to on his boat while out to sea, and it turns out that Tom's spells, which only his son Harry (Chris Sheffield) knows about, aren't the only strange thing happening on and around Block Island; Harry's EPA scientist sister has been called out to the island to investigate an ongoing mass die-off of fish, with over nine tons having washed up on West Beach so far. She arrives with co-worker Paul (Ryan O'Flanagan) and daughter Emily (Matilda Lawler) in tow. Soon Tom disappears, and while investigating, Harry finds some sort of strange radio interference in the spot where his boat was found.

The McManus Brothers, who wrote and directed, had their last big-screen release eight years ago with Funeral Kings, and if this movie was nothing more than a story of a sometimes-contentious family dealing with the father's decay, it would be a worthy follow-up to that movie. Neville Archambault switches between friendly, cantankerous, and out of it in a way that would feel natural if there wasn't this other set of circumstances but also fits in nicely that way. Michaela McManus and Chris Sheffield make the relationship between Audry and Harry as something that's been worn kind of thin over time, and it adjusts in just the right way when Heidi Niedermeyer enters the picture as a second sister. The family is easy to relate to but also feels specific to this particular sort of community, where you're either stuck with each other or cut off, with the place overwhelmed by outsiders in the summer or a little too quiet during the off-season.

There is this other thing going on, though, and though the brothers telegraph it fairly clearly toward the start, it's a nice complement to the rest, not so grandiose that it renders the family drama irrelevant but not so minor that it can get lost. They dole it out slowly, not so much keeping it potentially inside Harry's head - there are regular reminders of those nine tons of fish, even if they often come from Harry's conspiracy-theory spouting friend Dale (an entertainingly annoying Jim Cummings) and as such only get half the urgency they might - but letting the audience kind of dismiss it as one of those things that never get solved. Even when they drop a bunch of explanation on the audience, it's done so that it can still feel mysterious and uncertain.

Still, when the time comes to leave no doubt, the film gets focused, both in having Sheffield plays intensely tormented but too prideful to ask for help and in how genuinely intense everything else becomes. Every new revelation of something weirder delivers a genuine jolt, the first couple of times from how intensely normal the rest of the movie plays and later ones for how the audience knows something is coming, with the scares having a grounded and practical feel without asking the audience to be impressed with the work that went into them. Cinematographer Alan Gwizdowski captures the town's placid atmosphere (it feels like the same sort of lighting as Jaws without ever explicitly referencing that movie) while making the night feel a little more dangerous, while Paul Koch's music hammers home the danger but with a synth-y bass drone that makes the danger seem all-encompassing, rather than coming from some specific direction.

It can feel a little overpowering at times, not always quite matching the scale of the story around it, but also genuinely creepy and relatable for how well it puts the viewer into the characters' lives. It may not be what one expects going in, but it's very satisfying regardless.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33625&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/30/20 17:12:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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