Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere that makes an unexpectedly big impression. This is one such film. Blue Ruin is a taught little thriller that gripped me from the off. Much of its power comes from keeping things simple. The tension is amped up considerably due to the lean narrative. It follows a sequence of dramatic events within a narrow timeline, and all in excruciating detail.
The ragged, heavily-bearded Dwight (Macon Blair) has nothing. He sleeps in his car, lives off junk from the beach in Delaware, and does the odd bit of breaking and entering. He is unexpectedly informed by the authorities that the man who killed his parents is due for release from jail. And with that, he journeys to Maryland in his battered Pontiac Bonneville preparing to become the unlikeliest of assassins.
In this, his second feature, writer and director Jeremy Saulnier delivers an unconventional thriller free from cliché. His startling original script is brought to realisation with fine precision. Saulnier says he set out to strike a balance between arthouse and genre piece, and he certainly fulfilled that remit. The first act is largely silent and has a beautiful melancholy. From then on, the dramatic thrust increases considerably. The action, when it happens, appears in short incendiary bursts. It works as both thoughtful indie and credible genre flick (and hopefully it will appeal to fans of both). Saulnier employed a Kickstarter campaign to complete the film – and the budgetary constraints lend credence to necessity being the mother of invention. Said invention brings to mind the Coens' debut Blood Simple. As with that film, Blue Ruin’s strengths lie in atmosphere and a damn fine screenplay.
Revenge is a classic cinematic more and one of which I’m very fond. Blue Ruin gives us a great take on that. The foundations of Dwight's cunning springs from his homelessness, which is such a fresh concept. Increasingly out of his depth, his survival depends on it. His demeanour – as the action progresses - becomes increasingly that of a wounded animal. The raw survival instinct associated with such a creature keeps him going and makes for a fantastically tense watch. The film centres on this wonderful, understated performance from Macon Blair - himself a childhood friend of the director. It’s a star-making turn and we are certainly going to see a lot more of the actor. Another nod must go to Devin Ratray. Fresh from his entertaining turn in Nebraska, he provides a touch of much-needed comicality amidst the excitement.
A film like this makes me so excited that there are still stories out there to be told in new and interesting ways, and that there are film-makers, like Jeremy Saulnier, with the guts and determination to deliver.
Make sure you catch it on the big screen for full impact.