Dividing Block Island from mainland Rhode Island sits the picturesque straight known as The Block Island Sound. It also serves as the setting for the newest movie from writer/director duo Kevin and Mathew McManus. The McManus brothers produced the lauded American Vandal of which captured the absurdity of high school drama perfectly. They are also responsible for the stellar Karate Kid extension Cobra Kai available on Netflix starting this weekend. It is fair to say we expect big things out of whatever new project they take on. When The Block Island Sound was announced as their next movie, and as a true horror movie (whatever that is) I was excited. Block Island Sound is a solid entry into the McManus lexicon. Held against their other projects I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as their other projects. Held against other horror movies that are Weird and paranoid, it is pretty great.
Chris Sheffield plays Harry Lynch who has always been a bit of square peg in the small community of Block Island. As the movie progresses Harry becomes more concerned that something is very wrong with both the fish in the sound but also with his father (Neville Archambault). He determines that the two issues may be interrelated and seeks help from his marine biologist sister Audry (Michaela McManus). Audry becomes increasingly concerned not by either of Harry’s issues but rather with Harry’s himself who grows increasingly violent and paranoid. Audry’s concerns are only exacerbated by her daughter who could be in harms way. The plot is a bit convoluted as the movie uses a ton of WEIRD imagery from Archambault who lurks around the edges of this movie like a deranged soccer dad occasionally yelling at his son to do things that don’t make sense. It is intensely unsettling and helps complicate every aspect of the film. Despite not getting a ton of screen time Archambault is by far the scariest part of this movie.
The movie looks beautiful and the few scenes that lean into the paranormal or the surreal really worked for me. Perhaps the real stand out of this movie is the sound design which is plays so effectively with white noise and low frequencies that it made me feel feverish from time to time. There is plenty of growling and barking that seems so entirely out of place it becomes unsettling. Even the voice over that exists to wrap things up at the end of the film has a ghost like quality that feels almost ethereal. When coupled with actual message it left me confused but in an entirely introspective kind of way.
At the end the complicated plot may not work for everyone. It confused the hell out of me but its willingness to swim in the weird murky waters of The Block Island Sound mean that it is relatively easy to find grander meaning in the movie. At it’s core The Block Island Sound produces dread out of the relentless pursuit of the aged father figure. Harry is consumed with taking care of his older father. He is worried that he will forget where he is and who he is. Later in the movie Harry’s own fear comes from the fact he may be turning into his father. All while visions of the patriarch invade his reality.
The Block Island Sound shares the same fear of our older population that breakout hits Relic and Amulet have. It seems like for the millennial generation the real monster is an aging population that seems more and more alien to the younger generation. Not only do we fear this zombie demographic that continues to influence the world by voting in specific ways but what truly scares us is that we may all turn into them someday. In that way the paranoia of The Block Island Sound seems perfect for a post Covid election season where every new election sign out front seems to be a personal affront (believe you me I take them as such). The McManus brothers have always gotten how teenagers think. There use of humor and satire can often lead to very astute observations about what it is to come of age right now. The humor is outrageous the metaphor subtle. The Block Island Sound lacks that subtlety and as a result feels a little less revelatory. It seems those teenagers they once satirized have grown up and are worried about the state of world. Same fellas….Same.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.