The tried-and-tested revenge thriller gets a refreshingly realistic makeover in Jeremy Saulnier’s second directorial feature. A far cry from the comparatively amateurish satire Murder Party (2007), Blue Ruin is a perfectly pitched exploration into the effect violence has on the psyche of a sane man. With a background as a cinematographer, Saulnier has refined his art into something brutal yet beautiful. The brutality of the film’s violence is brilliantly juxtaposed with its dark sense of humour, which will have you inappropriately laughing at the oddest of moments. For those looking for a no-holds-barred shoot-em-up look elsewhere. This calculated, measured approach to the genre will have you gripped to your seat waiting for the next twist in the bloodshed.
The film starts with a clever opening that drops us in the middle of Dwight’s (Macon Blair) life as he lives on the fringes of society. Thirty-something, dishevelled and with a beard of epic proportions, he seems to have withdrawn from normal everyday life. Without a word of dialogue, we learn how he eats, sleeps (in the back of a rusted blue sedan), and how he entertains himself. Dwight is jolted back to reality with the news of a convict being released that he has a history with. He is spurred into action and is clearly a man with nothing to lose as he attempts to steal a gun by smashing a car window. We get glimpses throughout regarding how Saulnier feels about gun laws in America but without bludgeoning us to death with his ideals; he lets us make our own minds up amidst the carnage. The clinical yet artistic filmmaking style perfectly contrasts how ineffectual Dwight’s skills are as a killer. Nothing can prepare someone for the first time they take a life and we see that in Dwight’s eyes as he hides in a cubicle staring at his soon to be victim.
The gun-toting redneck family he has a vendetta against are some of the most frightening villains in recent history, precisely for the fact that they seem incredibly normal. A far cry from the caricatures of Deliverance (1972), the family seems plucked out of an American reality TV show you are never going to watch. They also come armed with a crossbow, which produces one of the more humorous moments as Dwight tries to self-medicate and sew himself up. Think No Country for Old Men’s (2007) Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) but with less experience and a lower pain threshold.
Saulnier wrote to suit his needs, using locations he could get for free or vehicles that were available. He opportunistically capitalised on family estates as well as the unwavering commitment of his best friend and star Macon Blair, not least for growing his beard for over 10 months for the film. Storyboarding the first 20 minutes and then allowing the rest of the film to develop also adds to its organic style. As a cinematographer, Saulnier uses the visuals to great effect. The first act unfolds almost entirely without dialogue. We follow Dwight on his quest with a very evocative shallow focus used to block out the rest of the world. As the second act begins, we meet his sister (Amy Hargreaves), who provides much needed relief and grounding for Dwight and the audience alike. Going against the grain of classic revenge films, we are not shown or even explicitly told what he is avenging. Keeping the turmoil within the character would usually result in a sub-par film but the central performance is so enthralling and multi-layered we are with him at every emotional turn.
With its realistic depiction of violence, contemplative camera work and refreshingly flawed central character, Blue Ruin offers something new to the well-trodden revenge genre without straying too far off the beaten track.
Blue Ruin is in UK cinemas via Picturehouse Entertainment from 2nd May 2014.