Terror is Quietly Calling in Eerie The Block Island Sound (2021)
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
Title: The Block Island Sound
First Wide Release: March 11, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus
Writer: Kevin McManus, Matthew McManus
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Starring: Chris Sheffield, Michaela McManus, Neville Archambault
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Audry (Michaela McManus) is sent back to her hometown to report on the abnormalities in the local fish population where she finds her father, Tom (Neville Archambault), in an unstable mental state and her brother, Harry (Chris Sheffield), trying to determine what is happening to him. Tom is sleepwalking, losing track of time, and disappearing in the middle of the night on the family fishing boat. The situation escalates when he disturbs his granddaughter during one of his late-night strolls. He doesn’t get the chance to apologize, because he does not return. In his wake, a spiraling series of events ensnares the family as they cope, grieve, and search for answers, before it happens to Harry next.
A hauntingly metaphoric film, The Block Island Sound trades traditional scares for chilly atmospheric horror.
The Block Island Sound is an incredibly personal and affecting horror experience. Much of the film’s success rides on the relationships of the family at the center of the horror. It’s clear that there is friction between the siblings and a distance between them. The film serves as an extended metaphor for intergenerational mental illness and the effects that has on the unit. The father is the first to fall under this affliction before passing it on to his son. Then, the film really shifts gears to Harry’s point of view as he struggles with the same issues his father did shortly before he passed.
I love the character of Harry; I think he is perfect for this sort of film. I like that he is kind of an asshole, even before things specifically change for him. He’s relatable enough to inspire concern and empathy but his actions make you challenge that even though he clearly doesn’t want to hurt anyone when he is in control. The symptoms of mental illness often push others away from the person suffering, increasing their isolation and making it harder for them to get the help they need. This is exactly what happened in Harry’s life, even before the sound came. Other than his father, Harry didn’t have anyone outside of some friends that clearly annoyed him. The only exception is Audry.
Audry keeps showing up for Harry, even when he makes things difficult. Now there are clear gender dynamics that absolutely contribute to this, but it shows a sign of true support and care for another person that Audry has. She has his back and is intentional with her actions to ensure he gets the help he needs, that is, until she couldn’t do it anymore. She tries everything without making it about herself. This relationship fed in perfectly to the story and made for a compelling and tense watch. Both Sheffield and McManus do exceptional work bringing this relationship to life in a visibly genuine manner.
The true terror, it seems, is losing control of your faculties. We see this with Tom, then Harry, and then what? While I loved the comparison between the horror of the sound and mental illness, I was a little confused by the insertion of the conspiracy theory subplot. I understand why Jim Cumming’s character was needed, but it didn’t feel properly resolved. These moments of blacking out and losing control are signaled by being close to or using technology which feels similar to how those who dwell on conspiracy theories fester through their online presence. It might be a stretch to say that though. Regardless, any excuse for Cummings to deliver high energy character actor greatness is fine by me.
Even without the meaty social commentary, The Block Island Sound is just a great muted horror flick. Shrouded in a somber and unsettling atmosphere, it doesn’t rely on jump scares or even action sequences to elevate the terror. Raw, gurgling sounds emanating from various gadgets and frozen expressions devoid of thought carry the weight of the film’s existential terror. Its brooding pace leads into a sharp and intense climax that will knock the wind out of you. You’re given so few pieces of information, that little by little, as the mystery unfurls, you’re left with the full picture which is ultimately both satisfying and terrifying. Cold, crisp cinematography and assured direction combine together to craft a dark and ambiguous tale of losing yourself.
I’m so happy to report that The Block Island Sound is the first great horror film of 2021, at least the first great one I have seen so far. A gripping and thoughtful tale of bodily autonomy and family, this film will have you writhing in discomfort at the disturbing imagery and eagerly awaiting the next clue to unfurl the mystery. Accessible in both content and availability, there is no excuse to miss out on Netflix’s latest hit. While I suspect it will go quietly under the radar this year, don’t miss out on this absolute gem of a slow-burn horror.
Overall Score? 7/10