Blue Ruin (2014) Review
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 1hr 30 Mins
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson
Plot: A mysterious man’s life spirals into chaos when he returns to his former home in the pursuit of extracting his revenge for a crime committed against his very own.
When the virtually unknown film-maker Jeremy Saulnier surpassed his modest $35,000 funding goal for his second feature film on Kickstarter in the summer of 2012, few would have batted an eye lid; just another crowding funding project crawling over the line before fading into mediocrity. Right? Hopelessly wrong. This arduous, deeply personal and motivational funding marathon encapsulates the virtue of perseverance. Once complete, Blue Ruin generated significant buzz across the industry when it received its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes film festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight selection. It won the FIPRESCI prize (previously awarded to the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick to name a few). The rest as they say, is history. It is a remarkable success story for independent film but the question remained, is it worthy of such acclaim?
In a word, yes. Blue Ruin transpires as a grisly revenge thriller that builds a savagely serrated fortress of unbearable tension upon bedrock of visceral violence, latent grief and jet black comedy. This haunting apologue crawls under your skin and torches even the faintest glimmer of convention in its wake. Saulnier submerges the viewer into nebulous waters where he probes the aftermath of revenge rather than the act itself; it is a profoundly unpredictable world that neither has meaning nor is it governed by a moral code. This is a masterful perspective on the act of retribution itself and its flawed premise. Even with the exorcism of hate, the demons that hover Dwight’s inability to face his trauma drive him to an irrational state of mind. He is unable to face the consequences of his parents’ death and subsequently flees into a hermit existence, detaching himself from his sister and civility itself. Macon Blair’s beautifully poised and understated turn as Dwight adds gravitas to Saulnier’s ‘Coen-esque’ screenplay. His sensational performance is undoubtedly one of the year’s breakthrough moments.
In Dwight’s plight, there is no glamourisation of revenge neither is there a hulking anti-hero. Instead, we have an ordinary man thrust into an unfamiliar predicament. It is this which draws us closer to the protagonist, it’s as though we follow him on a one-man mission to nowhere. The overwhelming confusion stems from the fact Dwight had not logically planned his method of vengeance. There is no cold, calculated escape route. No clear means of avoiding the mess created by his actions. We are bound to his illogical footprint, silent pretenders wading through a heap of wreckage and flying arrows. He is a taciturn ghost caught in crossfire between his own emotional breakdown and the retribution sought by those he has indefinitely scarred.
Saulnier’s screenplay certainly prefers action to words. He shows rather than tells and this may frustrate those who prefer definitive explanation for what unfolds on-screen. There is no elaborate back story which ties things together. It is rooted in realism and the appreciation of the inability to articulate life’s complexities. This serves to amplify the mystery surrounding Dwight and his homeless origins. It will be hard to find a more tantalizing opening thirty minutes. The surprising flashes of graphic violence will alienate some but certainly serve their purpose, the visceral nature of these scenes are tough to stomach but tend to be laced in humour (provided by the terrific Devin Ratray who offers light relief and forms a trustworthy figure in Dwight’s life). Look out for the haunting image of a perplexed Dwight drenched in blood, it’s as though he is staring into the abyss as the consequence of his actions begin to wash over him.
Comparisons to the likes of Coen’s No Country for Old Men are not unfounded. Blue Ruin is a starkly rendered suburban nightmare; it will satisfy the demand of genre fans whilst flirting with the whims of the art house devotee. It is a flashing light for the power of independent cinema and a prime example of how an unconventional spin on a tested genre can yield compelling drama. Blair and Saulnier have arrived and they are here to stay.