Film Review – The Block Island Sound (2020)

The Block Island Sound is a real-life strait off the coast of Rhode Island. The first area of the USA to implement wind turbines it is home to a close-knit and resilient community. Harry Lynch lives there, with his widowed dad Tom, and is becoming increasingly concerned with his fathers’ interludes of withdrawn behaviour and trancelike sleepwalking. Not to mention vacant staring at dogs.

When his sister Audry visits unexpectedly from the mainland, with her daughter Emily, the family and those connected are cast into a foaming tempest of ecological and psychological terror.

Entire flocks of birds begin dropping from the sky mid-flight and shoals of dead fish are washing up on the blustery beaches, but when Tom goes missing at sea the true nightmare begins.

American Vandal producers Kevin and Matthew McManus return to feature films with an intelligent and immersive snapshot of dysfunctionality and paranoia. Exquisitely grounded, with iridescent sparkles of horror and Sci-Fi, The Block Island Sound deploys genre tropes as dramatic field marshals rather than bombastic shock troops.

Determined to flesh out their protagonists with rich layers of relatable foibles, and trust the viewer’s attention span, it’s a meticulous and measured journey towards an immensely satisfying climax. The slow burn trade-off is definitely worth it with a risk-reward of embodied tension, cohesive world-building and empathetic investment.

The location, namechecked by Billy Joel in The Downeaster Alexa, is lensed beautifully by Alan Gwizdowski. You can almost inhale the ozone and savour the convergence of the sea breeze as the impending spectre of tragedy looms on the hazy horizon. Not since Spielberg’s Amity has Island life felt so tangible, organic and ominous.

The fine cast complements the tone and pace of the film with performances that express internal pain, grief and guilt whilst pulling back from the steep cliffs of melodramatics.

Chris Sheffield is excellent as the tortured Harry, an impetuous and fiery young man who, as a result of parental favouritism, is yet to fully embrace adulthood. Michaela McManus is equally as engaging as his contrastingly pragmatic sister, Audry. A mixture of proactive acceptance and stoic utilitarianism she is a likeable character, given just the right amount of venerability, in a superbly written female part.

The supporting ensemble bolsters the air of realism with Jim Cummings giving his all as Dale, the local tinfoil hatter living the conspiracy theory wet dream. Neville Archambault is utterly chilling as Tony in a role that announces his graduation from the Michael Berryman academy of faces made for horror.

A foreboding score, seething with Force majeure, from Paul Koch gels seamlessly with Andrey Radovski‘s discombobulating sound mix to fuse an audioscape of brooding menace.

In terms of narrative trajectory, The Block Island Sound is best discovered for yourselves as Dutch explored Adriaen Block did in the early 1600s. That said, you can expect some deliciously left-field deviations and fiendish reveals before the fantastically well-executed final reel. Paying attention to some of the more subtle passages of dialogue early in the film will serve you well in decoding the cleverly bookended conclusion.

By refusing to lazily plunder the cinematic thrift store of shlocky gore and cheap jump scares, the McManus brothers have crafted a delicate study of sibling dynamics, mental surety and the seductive nature of conspiracist ideation.

★★★★

Horror, Sci-Fi| USA ,2020 | 15 | 11th March 2021 | Netflix  | 30 Bones Cinema, Hood River Entertainment | Dirs. Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus | Chris Sheffield, Michaela McManus, Neville Archambault, Jim Cummings

This review is a repost of our 2020 Fantasia Fest Film Festival Review | original post