Another highlight from Fantasia Film Festival 2020 comes from the world premiere of the new McManus Brothers feature film; the Emmy-nominated writers behind American Vandal and producers on Cobra Kai. Billed as their first foray into horror, The Block Island Sound is an innovative and insanely gripping indie.
The feature film centres around a mysterious force which appears to be detrimentally affecting the residents and wildlife of the remote Block Island. Birds are dropping from the sky, dead fish are turning up on the shore and local fisherman, Tom Lynch (Neville Archambault) is growing increasingly more disturbed. His son Harry (Chris Sheffield), notices he’s getting more forgetful and often disappearing, so calls his marine biologist sister (Michaela McManus) to help him keep an eye on their father. But when she begins to explore the eerie wildlife phenomena, she notices a chilling connection with her father’s behaviour.
Billed as a horror, The Block Island Sound unravels as a more psychological thriller, captivatingly documenting both Tom and Harry’s slow descent into “madness”. The dark, central mystery of what’s really happening to the island and how it’s linked to their father quickly draws you in. But just as you think you’ve worked out the connection between the two events, unexpected twists and turns begin to unravel in the closing act.
Featuring themes reminiscent of The Lighthouse, the McManus Brothers explore topics such as mental heath, trauma, isolation and grief. There’s quite a lot to unpack in the film, not least the many sub genres [included]. On the surface, the film is a psychological thriller sprinkled with horror and supernatural elements, but at the heart it’s a somber family drama. There’s an impressive authenticity between the sibling’s complicated dynamic, with Sheffield and McManus wonderfully portraying the conflicted pair. But it’s when Harry’s ties to reality start to slip that the film becomes truly captivating, as Sheffield truly thrills.
This is also a well crafted and shot film, with the McManus Brothers making full use of the island location. It’s truly atmospheric, with the cold and isolated setting adding to the unnerving horror and supernatural elements. The visual and practical effects used to capture the strange events in the third act are also impressively realised, particularly for an indie film.
The Block Island Sound is a visually arresting and genre-defying movie full of intrigue. With the unpredictable nature and slow burn set up of the central narrative, the sudden wild ending may not quite fully match the ambition, but I appreciate the bonkers ride!