Dead animals, mysterious visions and eerie noises – the Netflix horror film THE BLOCK ISLAND SOUND sets up a largely conventional genre potpourri against an oppressive coastal backdrop, but mixes the familiar ingredients together in a largely appealing way. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Block Island Sound (USA 2020)
At first it’s just a few dead fish, but a short time later whole flocks of birds are stuck upside down on the shores of Black Island. The islanders are at a loss in the face of an invisible threat that threatens not only the island’s animals but increasingly people as well. This is also felt by Audry (Michaela McManus), who returns to her family after a long absence because her father (Neville Archambault) is behaving strangely. He repeatedly complains of blackouts and has terrible visions until he suddenly dies under mysterious circumstances. But Audry’s problems are far from over with the organization of the funeral. Now it’s suddenly her estranged brother Harry (Chris Sheffield) who is also haunted by hallucinations…
Some set pieces have become so established in horror cinema that they now have their own genre. For example, there are numerous hut-in-the-woods films and institutional shockers, but horror fans should also steer clear of old mansions, high schools and hotel rooms; Too often unspeakable evil has hidden behind the four walls of such establishments. A term such as “island horror” does not yet exist, but a number of genre filmmakers recently came up with the idea that an island cut off from the mainland on all sides by water would make the ideal genre film backdrop: Robert Eggers had Robert in “The Lighthouse.” Pattinson and Willem Dafoe went crazy because of loneliness, Christian Alvart even invited people to the northern, harsh coast twice in his serial killer thriller “Abschnitt” and the pandemic series “Sløborn”, and for “Shutter Island” virtuoso director Martin Scorsese mixed the island setting with grueling institutional horror. Another entry in this burgeoning subgenre is appearing on Netflix these days, for which the brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus, who are responsible for the script and direction (produced “American Vandal” and “Cobra Kai” for the streaming service, among others), are located in southern Rhode Island Making Block Island the scene of spooky events. And even though they are reaching for tricks that have long since been emptied, their mix of science fiction and horror films, titled “The Block Island Sound,” is surprisingly intense.
Tom (Neville Archambault) has been plagued by eerie visions for weeks…
The underlying tension that prevails in “The Block Island Sound” results primarily from two things. On the one hand, there are the mysterious harbingers of death – above all hundreds of dead fish and birds – which flood the coast for no apparent cause. On the other hand, it is also the island itself that gives you an uncomfortable feeling as a viewer right from the start. Kevin and Matthew McManus do not portray the islanders as particularly whimsical contemporaries. Nevertheless, Audry, who is returning to her hometown after a long time, is constantly told by suspicious looks and skeptical questions that she no longer belongs to the Block Island community and should best disappear from here. This leads to a rather striking starting point in which “the stranger” meets “the strangers” and vice versa (including the intra-family disputes, which is why Aubry hasn’t cared about her closest relatives for so long), but it is absolutely effective. Even without the mysterious events in “The Block Island Sound,” the island would not be a place where someone who doesn’t belong would want to stay. And it is all the more difficult for Audry to correctly interpret the strange peculiarities of her mentally disturbed father – after all, all the residents here on Block Island behave a little “strangely”.
“The underlying tension in “The Block Island Sound” results primarily from two things. On the one hand, there are the mysterious messengers of death. On the other hand, it is also the island itself that gives you an uncomfortable feeling as a viewer right from the start.”
As the running time progresses, “The Block Island Sound” becomes increasingly dense with evidence of an omnipresent, life-threatening threat to all islanders. At the same time, those responsible left it open for a long time as to exactly which genre it could best be placed in. Are chemicals and poisoned waters the cause of people’s dead animals and visions? Is an angry demon wreaking havoc on Block Island? Or might the threat even come from outer space? The script cleverly sets out trails in different directions without using too striking motifs. If in the first third of Neville Archambault (“Slumlord”) Father Tom, played with stoic menace, dies and “It” claims his first human life, the search for the cause of death even temporarily takes a back seat when the differences between Audry and her brother Harry are more important for a short time in order to emotionally close the story earth. In general, “The Block Island Sound” remains firmly rooted in reality until the very end. The resolution, for which Kevin and Matthew McManus make full use of the production, seems all the more difficult to get used to (but also braver!). Serving common expectations was secondary here. Instead, they manage to surprise in the finale with their radicalism and uncompromising approach. You can easily forgive the fact that the last third feels badly constructed.
Harry (Chris Sheffield) and his sister Audry (Michaela McManus) must identify their dead father.
The actors succeed in filling the characters in “The Block Island Sound” with the necessary life. Above all, Michaela McManus – the sister of filmmakers Kevin and Matthew McManus – has the opportunity to compensate for the lack of characterization in the script with her strong acting. At the beginning, her performance alternates believably between worried and annoyed. Only when the threatening events pile up does the fear of the unknown danger visibly inhibit Audry’s initially quick-tempered reactions. Yours by Chris Sheffield (“Maze Runner – The Chosen: In the Labyrinth”) His brother Harry, on the other hand, gradually turns to madness during the film, while at the same time trying to maintain his worried facade. In “The Block Island Sound” each character gradually becomes an incalculable threat. The only constant until the end has been newcomer Matilda Lawler, who recently played her first leading film role in the Disney+ original “Flora & Ulysses”. As Audry’s little daughter Emily, Lawler manages to credibly convey the fear of death she endured firsthand at a young age.
“In general, “The Block Island Sound” remains firmly rooted in reality until the very end. This makes the resolution, for which Kevin and Matthew McManus make full use of the production potential, all the more difficult to get used to (but also braver!).
But it doesn’t even take one of Emily’s many blood-curdling screams to make the audience feel frightened in front of the television screen. “The Block Island Sound” scores consistently with its oppressive production. Cinematographer Alan Gwizdowski (“Pavarotti”) Foregoes any exaggerated frills and instead concentrates on the straightforward photography of these harsh, harsh coastal backdrops, which, thanks to the precise work, are given a maximum of menace. Composer Paul Koch (“Slumlord”) contributes an equal carpet of sound in which the titular “sound” – a noise that the islanders, plagued by visions, believe they hear again and again from a distance – stands out. Nobody knows what it is or where it comes from. It’s just that nothing good can come from it. This sound is symptomatic of the basic mood of the entire film, because even though you only notice a little of the threat most of the time, you still know that it is always there.
Conclusion: The filmmaker brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus enrich their island shocker “The Block Island Sound” with common genre motifs, but over time they let their scenario escalate in unexpected ways. This makes for an ending that feels contrived, but also one or two pleasant surprises.
“The Block Island Sound” is now available on Netflix.