One thing that always excites me about watching films, especially low-budget indies, is that you’ll sometimes find a film that will shine above the rest and show some promise for the people involved. What some young filmmakers fail to realize is that it is one thing to complete your first feature length project, which is an achievement in and of itself, but you also need to make a good first impression; you need to give people a reason to get pumped for your next project.
This brings us to Blue Ruin. The film is written, directed and shot by Jeremy Saulnier. Blue Ruin would technically be his second feature after the 2007 film, Murder Party, which is barely feature length, sitting at a runtime of 79 minutes. Blue Ruin was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign and showed at several festivals in 2013. The film is a revenge thriller following Dwight (Macon Blair). Our first look at this man shows him as a broken man; a man who’s homeless, going through garbage for food and sleeping in his car. One day, he is picked up by the police and informed that the man who killed his parents has been released from jail. With this information, Dwight makes a decision that changes the course of his shattered life. He goes for revenge.
The standout element of the film is easily the fantastic direction by Jeremy Saulnier. What he makes is a dark and brutal tale using a slice of Americana as a backdrop. In terms of revenge films, Blue Ruin takes the story in a very realistic manner and, appreciatively, makes the act of revenge in the film one of the least glamorizing portrayals I’ve seen. The style of the film is something I would describe as the poignant pointlessness and idiosyncratic characters of a Coen brothers film combined with the slow burn and quiet intensity of a Nicolas Winding Refn film. The screenplay is tight and smartly written. Each piece of information regarding Dwight and the man he’s after is revealed slowly and confidently, without resorting to having exposition dumps. There are also some welcomed moments of subtle dark humor that is pulled off with grace and never felt out of tone. Jeremy Saulnier also builds suspense masterfully, often keeping music to a minimum, he manages to keep you entranced and each twist, turn and shock feels earned and satisfying.
The acting is also great all around. Macon Blair makes a great lead, with a surprising, yet refreshingly ordinariness that makes his character easier to connect with, and his actions that much more horrifying. He carries the film on his shoulders and he pulls it off very well. The supporting cast does a good job as well. They include Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, David Thompson and Devin Ratray (whoa, it’s Buzz from Home Alone!), among others. They all sell the authenticity of the location, and they feel like people you would meet in that area (and considering that the film takes place in Central Virginia, where I live, I should know).
Blue Ruin is a mesmerizing and interesting take on the revenge genre. Macon Blair’s powerful performance complements Jeremy Saulnier’s confident and masterful writing and direction, using every second of the film’s 90 minute running time to great effect. The cinematography beautifully captures the natural magnificence of the environment and the bloody affair that the characters find themselves in. The subject matter is handled with an unflinching brutality and the suspense is brilliantly crafted. If there’s anything to get out of the film, it’s that Jeremy Saulnier is a filmmaker to watch.
Side Note: For those who haven’t heard of Blue Ruin, I hope this review has helped gain some interest. I can easily see Blue Ruin be this year’s Short Term 12, as in it being a film that is almost unanimously praised, but does not get the general, mainstream recognition it deserves. If you are interested in Blue Ruin, it is currently in a limited theatrical release and is also available On Demand. I think it’s essential to support up-and-coming talent, so we can see more from them, and I think, if given the opportunity, Jeremy Saulnier can do wonders with the career ahead of him.