Another in an interesting recent run of films – They Look Like People, Pod, After Midnight – that present low-key, uncomfortable relationship dramas against a paranormal backdrop, The Block Island Sound examines a fractured family thrown into crisis as a set of symptoms (and perhaps delusions) are passed from one generation to the next.
Environmentalist Audry (Michaela McManus) visits Block Island, which is between Rhode Island and Long Island, where her never-really-got-it-together brother Harry (Chris Sheffield) lives with her ageing father Tom (Neville Archambault), in order to look into unusual fish fatalities which are only one of several unnerving phenomena. The family – which extends to Audry’s young daughter Emily (Matilda Lawler) and New York-dwelling sister Jen (Heidi Niedermeyer) – have all sorts of issues, with the women moving away from the island to get on with their lives and the men staying to grumble and succumb to a particular syndrome that looks like early dementia in Tom but is less explainable when Harry starts having black-outs, seeing visions, feeling compulsions to take a boat out to a particular spot and ramping up his natural hostility to eleven.
Signs that it might not all be in their minds are weird disruptions to electric equipment that coincide with episodes – and the odd burst of anti-gravity. Performances are impressive. Archambault, who was creepy in Slumlord, channels vintage Michael Ironside in the intensity of his hard stares, and gets even stranger when he might be a phantasm projected into his children’s minds. Sheffield carries the film as Harry, a guy who knows exactly how crazy all this sounds and is terrified that he’s going down the conspiracy nutcase route of a lift-cadging bar buddy who waxes on about chem-trails … but still can’t quell his dangerous impulses, which are at least in part fuelled by resentment against his sisters in particular and his dead-end life in general. Written and produced by Kevin and Matthew McManus, this is quite reticent about its genre elements – though an oblique explanation comes along via a Nigel Kneale-like casually significant speech, as Audry tries to explain to her daughter what her job entails, before any large-scale, irrefutable phenomena come along.
The title refers to the stretch of water, but also the impressive soundscape of the film – with a great many aural signs that not all is well, including nerve-scraping trickery with voices, nature sounds, electric equipment and weird ululations.