Horror has always given a voice to the voiceless. And one of the biggest beneficiaries of the genre’s undying compassion is the environment. Natural horror often shows the extreme consequences of tampering with mother nature and harming her children. It’s anyone’s guess if these films actually change anyone’s minds or habits over the years; making people more eco-friendly feels like an uphill battle, especially as of late. Regardless, natural horror continues to enlighten and show us the error of our ways. Creature features have shown a variety of animals turning the table on man, yet in Kevin and Matthew McManus’ The Block Island Sound, nature’s threat is more cerebral than external. Something as indescribable as it is sinister lurks off the shores, looking for a way in.
Audry Lynch (Michelle McManus) is forced to visit her hometown and in turn her family because of a job assignment. On the eponymous isle, a rash of bizarre animal deaths are only a symptom of a bigger problem. When both Audry‘s brother and father are sequentially affected by an unknown malady, she has no choice but to confront an ominous, otherworldly power that’s brewing in the nearby waters.
“The McManus Brothers craft a tale that is equally unusual and cryptic.”
Filmed in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the McManus’ second feature readily captures that Northeastern seaboard spirit. On top of a predictable climate characterized by restless, cold wind and rustling waters, there’s a complete lack of anonymity among the residents. Audry initially refused to return to Block Island because the town gossips wouldn’t dare let her leave without stopping to see her brother Henry (Chris Sheffield) and their father Tom (Neville Archambault). While there investigating an ecological concern — dead fish mysteriously continue washing up on shore — Audry becomes aware of her father’s blackouts.
The weather isn’t the only thing chilly about Block Island; the tension between Audry and her family can be cut with a knife. As excited as the patriarch of the Lynch family is to see his young grandchild (Matilda Lawler), his own daughter is visibly uneasy around him; so much so she wants to take the next ferry back home. That is before she and her brother go in search of their father after he goes missing. The outcome then triggers a terrifying chain of events that ties into the island’s other recent unexplained phenomena.
Immeasurable and inescapable amounts of dread fester in The Block Island Sound. From a haunting, guttural siren that emanates from within various characters, to an unutterable sense of terror that torments a grieving son, there is an absolute sadness about this film. Resident conspiracist Dale (Jim Cummings) is on the right track when trying to explain the area’s unnatural developments, but even he isn’t ready for the truth. There is a greater influence at work here that is using the Lynch family members to do its bidding.
Audry‘s return to the island is what set things in motion, but beyond that, her sibling becomes the story’s driving force. Chris Sheffield (The Maze Runner) delivers a frantic performance that conveys total heartache and fear. Again, the movie is as much about anguish as it is about an imminent evil in the ocean. Although Audry has made it clear she’s not on the best of terms with her troublesome family, she also fails to see how her absence, in addition to her mother’s passing, has affected her brother. Neville Archambault, on the other hand, reaffirms he’s a wonderful character actor who well understands the inner workings of someone as vulnerable as Tom Lynch.
The McManus Brothers craft a tale that is equally unusual and cryptic. There are no marauding mutant animals or seafaring invaders to speak of, and the looming threat is more felt than seen. Rather, the filmmakers are more concerned with mystery and human emotions. They juxtapose tangible displays of sorrow with inscrutable wonder; this elixir of rabid grief and total uncanniness is potent. Even though it never gives us a lucid explanation, there’s enough said and seen here to make a valid guess about all that happened.
The McManuses conceive a worthwhile and modest approach to eco-horror with shades of cosmicism for good measure. Along with solid performances, The Block Island Sound stirs up a substantial level of anxiety that lingers even after the movie ends. You’ll undoubtedly still be thinking up theories all the while replaying that eerie and bestial grumbling sound in your head.
“The Block Island Sound stirs up a substantial level of anxiety that lingers even after the movie ends.”
The Block Island Sound had its world premiere at 2020 Fantasia Fest. No word yet on a wide release, but we’ll keep you posted as soon as we catch word! Read all of our coverage of the festival here, and join the conversation with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!