The Block Island Sound

The Block Island Sound (2020)
★ / ★★★★

Writer-directors Kevin and Matthew McManus could have had a real gem on their hands because their story offers a curious premise: nine to ten tons of fish have washed ashore which suggests that there might be something in the deep that drove them inland. But a monster lurking in the ocean does not appear to explain why birds have begun falling from the sky. Nor does it account for why a man named Tom (Neville Archambault), the father of our protagonists, fails to have full control of his body after returning home from a fishing trip. Even the dog next door detects that something is terribly wrong with its neighbor.

“The Block Island Sound” is an excellent example of a work that fails to take off. It goes to show that you can have the best story on paper, but if you fail to harness the power of what makes that particular story compelling on film, then you might as well not tell it. In the middle of this dud, I wondered what percentage of viewers would walk away by the hour mark. Although interesting initially because of the bizarre events transpiring across the island, the film is not entertaining: no investigation is done so answers to the mystery are revealed on a constant basis, there is not one effective jolt to be had, there is occasional humor but making fun of conspiracy theorists is low hanging fruit (Jim Cummings), and there is a lack of thrilling or shocking revelations about the island or the people involved. Like the rotting fish on the coast, the film is dead.

We meet Harry (Chris Sheffield) who lives with Tom, his aging father. His sister, Audry (Michaela McManus), tells her co-worker and potential romantic interest (Ryan O’Flanagan), that his baby brother is short-tempered, a recluse, the type who doesn’t mesh well with others. But we observe Harry and he is none of these things. Already there is a disconnect. Never mind that we are told, rather than shown, how our central protagonist is like. But we are fed a lie, especially so early on. This is only one example. There are other exchanges that should have been excised from the picture completely, either for this reason or that the dialogue leads nowhere, certainly nowhere interesting. Perhaps the goal is simply to extend the duration of movie’s running time.

The film comes across as though it is never going to end. Consider, for instance, that Audry is supposed to be a marine biologist. She’s the responsible sibling, the one who supposedly possesses real initiative, gusto. And yet we never even see her pick up fish that had been washed ashore, dissect it, and place tissue samples under a microscope. A scientist doing nothing when bombarded by questions regarding nature is no scientist. How are we supposed to relate to this character when we are not convinced about her in the first place?

That aside, here is the more important point: A mystery comes to life when there is a relentless investigation, a constant drilling not only to get answers but to get to the truth. Sharp mysteries know there is a difference and yet this movie doesn’t even start an investigation. Why?

And so what results is movie that never stops beginning. I suppose we are given some human drama about Harry being regarded as a screw-up by his sisters, cops, and random townspeople. Although Sheffield seems up for the challenge, and he does create a sensitive portrayal, Harry is not written in a way that demands that we pay attention to a boy stuck in a man’s body. There is a recurring theme regarding out-of-body experiences, but the metaphor does not work if a character, at the very least, fails to undergo an arc. A performer can only emote so much. The screenplay must support the performance. The screenplay would have benefited from a serious overhaul.

6 replies »

  1. i’m going to give this one a try, i see it’s on netflix. I anticipate I will likely cut it off…

    But I have a question, do you use netflix on a desktop or laptop by chance? I watch it on my desktop and when I turned it on today it no longer offers the option to add titles to the que list. I turned on the netflix app on my phone and it does in-fact allow me to add titles; also, on my desktop version there is no longer any information on the “details” tab; the only option is to click play over a title. can’t save it to a list. can’t read the cast or any other details. If you use a desktop or laptop is it the same for you? It seems to work on the phone app regularly, but for some reason not the desktop.

    • Sorry, I can’t comment on the phone app. I don’t watch movies on my phone. I think it is an INSULT to movies. The screen is too small and the sound is of poorer quality to compared to laptop and television.

      But this is another conversation entirely. lol.

      (I see that you’ve already watched the film.)

      • yeah, i agree. I will only watch on my phone if i’m out somewhere and killing time. Any time I’m home I watch on my desktop. I can watch on my tablet if I need to. It’s smaller, but not too small.

  2. Yeah, I just watched it; well, some of it. I skipped thru parts b/c it did become pretty dull like you stated. I thought the ending was kind of interesting, there appearing some kind of species (fish of some kind I assume) studying humans in the same fashion the women said she studies fish, etc. but it’d definitely benefit from some kind of reveal…

    like I have said many times before, filmmakers need to think about “The Ring” (US) b/c that executes a perfect reveal after building and building anticipation throughout the film; everything led to that one moment. I think I told you before, a few of us stood up and were standing out of our seats at the theater during that sequence. That is what an effective horror movie should deliver. Remember that other film “Sweetheart” that’s like a year or two old, we both agreed they did a good job building the tension and delivering a great reveal, but they didn’t over do it. This one could have benefited from a strong reveal at the end instead of being so vague. But it was an interesting concept…

    Oh, and lastly, what was up with that score? lol. It was a good score, but the intensity of the score never matched the scene; the score leads you to believe an 80 foot sea creature is about to surface from the water and flash it’s giant fangs, or something. Nope, just a guy trying to steer a boat, and a crackling radio. lol.


      I thought those creatures were just aliens? There was no sign that they were some sort of fish creature. I think the point of the fish scenes, like when the mom was explaining about taking animals, studying them, and letting them go, is to serve as foreshadowing. Not necessarily that they’re fish creatures, right? Did I miss something? Hmm…

      Yes, you brought up wonderful examples. I’m in complete agreement with you about “The Ring” and “Sweetheart.” Not only is there build-up (which this movie had), it had tension (which this movie is on-and-off about) AND a knockout punch/reveal (which this movie did not have, in my opinion).

      The score creeped me out! I liked it. I think it matched some scenes because it is so off-putting on top of us not knowing what exactly is going on just yet. (To me, it became clear early on it was related to aliens. I’ve seen the entirety of “The X-Files.” Signs were everywhere. lol)

      • ok, you’re probably right. I read a review and they thought it was a fish creature or something. I didn’t really see evidence of that, but as I said I skipped scenes b/c it was pretty dull at times.

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