Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
Dwight (Blair) is an outsider that lives an isolated life in his car, foraging for food from bins and avoiding human contact. However, when he receives news that Wade Cleland, the man who murdered his parents, is about to be released from prison Dwight decides to embark on an act of vengeance to get what he believes is justice by brutally killing the man responsible. However this brings anything but closure to Dwight’s life: As a man that is quite the coward, Dwight proves to be an amateur assassin and his incompetence only seems to constantly exacerbate the situation in what turns into an increasingly brutal and complicated trail of vengeance and paranoia between him and the Cleland family.
Vengeance is a very popular subject with films it seems, and the mainstream films tend to portray it as glorious and satisfying with the protagonist either having a slightly unbelievable character arc of an everyman turned into a cold, calculated killer or conveniently having useful skills acquired in a past career. Not to mention the fact they are usually played by some toned Hollywood hard man. These films can be entertaining, but are often so predictable and unbelievable that they are nothing more than that, and often far worse than that. In this day and age it is very refreshing indeed when a film takes this overly familiar narrative concept but does with it exactly what writer/ director Jeremy Saulnier does in Blue Ruin; a weedy character that gets increasingly out of his depth in a continually messy trail of blood and vengeance of which our protagonist often loses total control of. Blue Ruin is a truly tense and engaging thriller from start to finish.
Saulnier skilfully shows us our unglamorous protagonist and explains who he is with minimal of exposition and then he commits an act of what he believes is extracting justice and revenge, it brings about anything but closure. This is when the film’s main story takes hold and it is an expertly told story as the Cleland family then keeps things ‘in-house’ and try to deploy their own vengeance as well as revealing to Dwight a few home truths along the way. There are people in Dwight’s life that he becomes increasingly paranoid that the Cleland family will target, even if they do not intend to, the repercussions of Dwight’s actions and his total lack of control over these repercussions is what makes Blue Ruin such a gripping thriller. Blue Ruin is a film of minimal dialogue and Saulnier manages to create an atmosphere of increasing tension and paranoia through other means, such as the actions and body language of the actors, as well as a narrative with its fair share of unpredictability.
Despite its low budget, Blue Ruin feels anything but a low budget film, with the camera often remaining very static as it is intentionally fixed on Dwight’s expressions of paranoia and disbelief. Long shots capture Dwight’s feeling of isolation when outside and tighter close ups capture his claustrophobic paranoia when indoors, but no matter where he is, Dwight can never relax for one instant and neither can the audience. The situation is of course slightly absurd, and there are moments of appropriately judged jet black humour which capture perfectly the absolute absurdity of the situation Dwight finds himself in and how he sometimes calamitously deals with it.
As Dwight, Macon Blair (Jeremy Saulnier’s best mate) commands the screen from start to finish with a suitably restrained performance; with very little dialogue, it is Dwight’s haunted facial expressions that capture perfectly hiss total lack of control over the situation.
At 90 minutes, Blue Ruin has a suitably lean running time, but it does feel at times that Saulnier struggles to fill the 90 minutes. Long takes of silence with very little happening are not a problem as they are extremely effective at enhancing the feeling of discomfort that our protagonist feels, but the introduction of a new character who is an old friend of Dwight’s does feel like Saulnier resorting to slightly generic and lazy conventions. However these are understandable as they do help to speed the narrative along and the only criticism of what is an expertly written and tightly put together thriller that grips until its very satisfying and appropriate conclusion.
A taut and expertly executed thriller, Blue Ruin takes an overdone concept and narrative but takes a far grittier and unglamorous approach that makes it infinitely more engaging and gripping.