The Block Island Sound (2020) Movie Review - Sleepy Sci-Fi Horror

Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller, Horror, Drama | 99 Min
The Block Island Sound Cover
  • Director: Matthew McManus, Kevin McManus
  • Actors: Ryan O'Flanagan, Matilda Lawler, Chris Sheffield, Neville Archambault
  • Writers: Matthew McManus, Kevin McManus
  • Producers: Matthew McManus, Kevin McManus, Andrew van den Houten, Ashleigh Snead
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Drunk Driving, Alcohol Abuse, Violence Towards Animals, Bad Language, Violence Towards Children.
  • Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller, Horror, Drama | 99 Min

Something lurks off the coast of Block Island silently influencing the behavior of fisherman Tom Lynch. After suffering a series of violent outbursts he unknowingly puts his family in grave danger.

Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are taking a look at Kevin and Matthew McManus’s Science Fiction Horror movie The Block Island Sound. Family drama, grief, substance abuse and entirely too much drink driving are the order of the day so let’s take a look.

Stop Saying Lovecraftian!

Outside of these couple of paragraphs, I will be avoiding the words “Lovecraftian” and “Cosmic Horror” in this review. These are lazy descriptions for a wide range of themes. Throwing them out, arbitrarily, at every other science fiction horror movie is a bit of a trend lately. I really don’t want to hop on that bandwagon.

It reminds me of the college kid obsession with referencing Schrodinger’s cat even if it doesn’t apply to a situation. Or the first year psychology students tendency to diagnose random people and to reference “cognitive dissonance” and “gaslighting” despite being completely out of context and inaccurately applied.

A number of Lovecraftian themes are present in The Block Island Sound, this is true. But many of those themes are the foundations of modern horror. There really aren’t many genuinely Lovecraftian movies around. I am not sure The Block Island Sound would satisfy true Lovecraft fans. In my opinion, it lacked the oh so important feel of a Lovecraftian horror movie. Here is a fantastic list of Lovecraftian movies from Mike at Lovecraftzine.com that have that genuine, authentic, Lovecraftian feel. Okay I am going to stop saying Lovecraftian.

Something is Amiss in Block Island

The Block Island Sound focuses on a family as they attempt to deal with the strange occurrences on Block Island. Audry, played by Michaela McManus, is sent to Block Island to investigate the washing up of dead fish on the beach. Audry works for the Environmental Protection Agency but also grew up on Block Island.

Neville Archambault as Tom from The Long Island Sound (2021)

It’s nice to see 13 Camera’s Neville Archambault playing a normal(ish) person.

Audry sees this as an opportunity to visit her Father Tom, played by everyone’s favourite 13 Cameras voyeur Neville Archambault (R.I.P.), and Brother Harry. Since moving to mainland Rhode Island, she doesn’t see her family much. Audry brings along her daughter and her assistant Paul, played by Ryan O’Flanagan, who also doubles as a convenient babysitter.

Upon arriving Audry is informed by the police chief, played by Willie C. Carpenter, that 10 tons of fish have washed up on the beach recently Her investigation, however, is interrupted as her father has been behaving bizarrely and completely out of character. Is he suffering from an ailment or is something more sinister afoot in the sleepy town?

A Slow Burn Kinda Horror

The Block Island Sound is a slow burn, mystery, science fiction, drama, horror type thing. Centred around a family in turmoil, much of the focus is on the fragility of the human mind and the insignificance of life. Most of the movie follows Harry who is a flawed character with deep issues. Seeing the mystery of the island through his eyes, we witness his attempts to understand what is happening.

Harry is, seemingly, oblivious to the strangeness of the island. That is, until it impacts him directly. His conspiracy theorist friend explains that things on the island have been strange for years. Harry just never noticed until he was part of it. The viewer is given an opportunity to share in his emotional reaction to the things taking place. His sister, Audry, affords us a more scientific and fact based view as well as a mediating factor when it comes to Harry and the world around him.

Jim Cummings from The Block Island Sound (2021)

Everyone needs a slightly dodgy conspiracy theorist friend, right?

Clocking in at 1 hour and 39 minutes, The Block Island Sound is not in a rush to get anywhere. The pacing feels fine for a slow burn movie, however. The small cast is ideal for keeping the story contained and relatable. We are watching a small group of people with conflicting beliefs who, ultimately, have no real explanations for what is taking place. Sure, there are times where the characters act in a manner that seems to be a little atypical to their usual behaviour. But the small cast works well to keep things tight.

Acting is Sometimes Good, Sometimes Bad

I hated Harry but I think that might be the intention. You are supposed to see him as a self important asshole. He reminded me of a discount Chris Pratt with more anger issues. An uneven performance from Chris Sheffield doesn’t really help matters. Sometimes he is fantastic at conveying Harry’s struggles. Other times he seems like he is trying too hard to seem like a cool antihero. He gets better as the movie goes on but early scenes are awkward and feel forced.

Michaela McManus as Audry from The Block Island Sound (2021)

This is supposed to be a tender scene but I found it a little sinister.

I did not enjoy Michaela McManus as Audry. Some of her delivery is strangely sinister. There is one scene where she is explaining, to her daughter, the work she does. Due to her strange manner of speaking, bizarre facial expressions, and odd cadence, it came across somewhat creepy. I am pretty sure that was not the intent. She has a permanent smile and appears to be grinning in the most inappropriate situations. Her manner of speech is perpetually condescending and I found her character difficult to like.

Neville Archambault, in one of his last roles, was absolutely fine. I think he is quite underrated and it was nice to not see him play a weirdo. Audry’s daughter, Matilda Lawler, is really good and very natural. Ryan O’Flanagan is great and probably the movie’s most likeable character. The rest of the cast does a decent enough job.

Keeps You Guessing

The Block Island Sound does a pretty good job of keeping you guessing. It offers up a number of feasible explanations for the events of the movie. Each one could be applicable and would fit nicely. It plays with the recent trend of using heavy metaphors in horror movies, as well. I often complain about this but it is really well done here. I particularly liked how it never committed to one particular idea until the end. Obviously this is trademark science fiction stuff but it is much appreciated against a backdrop of repetitive metaphorical horror.

The atmosphere is suitably heavy and foreboding throughout. There is a constant feeling of tension and the hostility between the characters adds to this. Harry is a troubled individual. This leads the viewer to not trust him and to wonder what events we are not privy to. I found myself quite enjoying this aspect. Harry is a bit of a train wreck and his flawed nature lends plausibility to a number of explanations. This helps maintain the mystery of the island and places us in the shoes of the people surrounding Harry.

Everything is So Grey

The Block Island Sound is an ugly movie. Everything is perpetually grey. I understand that this is likely deliberate but everything is so gloomy it can be quite difficult to look at. I don’t know if they were going for a dreamy, slightly hazy approach but I don’t feel as though it worked.

Cinematography is bland and uninteresting despite having a fantastic setting. Colours are muted and camera shots are generally by the numbers. There are a few shots that are framed in the exact same way at different points in the movie. This felt a bit lazy. Each scene should be an opportunity for innovation but The Block Island Sound occasionally takes the easy road. 

I did enjoy some of the methods used to reflect Harry’s fragile mental state. There was some very nice innovation there. The focus on the sea did a good job of making everything around it seem small, as well. Given the theme of the movie these shots were very fitting.

The Block Island Sound (2021)

Naked Gun and Police Squad anyone?

There are a few scenes featuring visual effects, but they are generally not over done. One of these incidents did look particularly comical, however. I never find it to be a good thing when something in a horror movie looks like something out of a slapstick comedy. I assume this movie is low budget but some things are best left unseen. We can make our own judgement on what something looks like.

Slow Pace, Limited Scares

The Block Island Song has a very slow pace. This will absolutely put a lot of people off. Pure horror fans will find this movie difficult to enjoy. There aren’t a huge number of scares and the science fiction drama aspect takes centre stage throughout. It thrives off of atmosphere and tension, not jump scares and action.

It does keep the mystery element of the story chugging along nicely, however. Most people who tolerate a slow burn will stay fairly engaged. There are rarely any moments without story progression and I didn’t ever feel particularly bored. I do tend to enjoy slow paced horror movies, however. I am a big fan of Saint Maud, for example, and a lot of people absolutely hate that movie.

When all is said and done. The Block Island Sound is far more focussed on getting across its tale of interpersonal drama, implied alcohol issues, and suggestion of declining mental capabilities than scaring the viewer. Everything is firmly grounded in reality until it isn’t and that’s when you might roll your eyes or stand up and applaud.

A Divisive Ending

From what I can gather, some people loved the ending of The Block Island Sound and some hated it. I will be covering it in our Horror Movie Ending Explained section over the coming days so look out for that.

I felt pretty ambivalent about it to be honest. It is a satisfying ending in as much as it explains the actions of the characters. The call back to an earlier plot point ties everything together fairly well. On the other hand, it was anticlimactic and I could have lived without the typical Hollywood addition in the last few seconds.

One thing is for sure, some people will love it and some will hate it. It might tie everything in a bow for you or leave you wishing you had watched something different.

Should You Watch The Block Island Sound?

The Block Island Sound is a difficult movie to recommend to traditional horror fans. It is a slow burn science fiction movie that is heavy on the drama and light on the thrills. Fans of horror movies that build an atmosphere and tell a story should find enough to enjoy. Others should give it a miss.

Acting can be a mixed bag. Characters are somewhat unlikeable and it is hard to care about the movie’s protagonists. Harry is a character who is deeply flawed, however, and this adds plenty of depth to the events of the movie.

The film is a little on the bland side to look at but the location is fantastic. There are no real scares but you can cut the tension with a knife. An ending that is sure to divide opinion may leave a sour taste in some people’s mouths. The Block Island Sound keeps you guessing and, if you can tolerate the slow pace, there is plenty to enjoy. Just don’t go into this expecting a traditional horror and keep an open mind.

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