Title: Blue Ruin
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Major players: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
Out of five? 3.5
Strange how revenge is so often described as if it were edible. ‘Best eaten cold’, ‘sweet’ or even ‘bitter’. Not that the words occur anywhere in Jeremy Saulnier’s award winning revenge thriller, Blue Ruin, which opens at Sundance London tonight. As far as the avenger here is concerned, ‘bumbling’ is closer to the mark.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is homeless when he learns that the man responsible for the murder of his parents is about to be released from prison. He sets out to get revenge and, having achieved that, finds he’s being pursued by the dead man’s brothers. He manages to save his sister from his pursuers and then sets out to eliminate the entire family.
The first half hour of the film has hardly any dialogue. The audience is watching a long-haired, bearded vagrant doing what he has to do to survive, and that includes breaking into people’s houses to take a bath. He lives in his car, a rusting wreck of a blue sedan, rummaging in dustbins for food. And for that half hour, we’re dependent on Macon Blair’s ability to communicate through his face and, in particular, his eyes to give us a sense of his character – and those saucer-like eyes are particularly expressive. The silence is broken when he’s told that his parents’ killer has been released and, when he eventually tells his sister the news, he admits that he’s got out of the habit of talking.
It sets the tone for the rest of the film. Blue Ruin’s emphasis is always on the visual and, although dialogue eventually arrives and plays its part, it is always back in second place behind the camerawork.
As a vagrant, Dwight has learnt to be resourceful and, once he’s lost his beard and long hair, he also demonstrates an uncanny ability to blend into the scenery and hide in the shadows, both of which prove to be invaluable as he goes in pursuit of his targets. Although when he tries to stretch that resourcefulness to removing an arrow from his leg, he’s not so successful. It’s a nod to the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, but from a far less competent character.
The truth is that Dwight really isn’t much of an assassin and, without the help of his gun enthusiast school friend Ben (an impressive Devin Ratray) his chances of taking revenge on the family would have been slim. Ben’s deeply unimpressed with his friend’s efforts and says so. And Dwight knows he’s right, because as the film continues, he is constantly reminded of his own ineptitude. It’s a neat twist on the usual revenge thriller convention of an ex-cop or ex-soldier who would at least know how to point and fire a gun.
Violence and gore aside – and there’s plenty of that – this is essentially a film about family. Dwight’s lost his. His parents are dead and it turns out that he didn’t really know them at all. He persuades his sister to leave so that she’s safe so now he’s on his own – unlike his parents’ killer when he’s released from prison. The family’s waiting for him, there’s a party to celebrate his return and their home is full of photographs of the extended family. They are a much tighter unit than Dwight’s fractured one and, despite being deeply unpleasant, they are still a family – and that realisation nearly prevents Dwight from shooting them.
Blue Ruin is very intense, so much so that by the time the credits roll, you feel like you’ve been repeatedly slapped around the face. It’s an exhausting watch, especially during the second half where the throbbing score ramps up the tension. And sometimes all it has to do is throb. It’s not going to end well, but it’s impossible not to look at the screen and follow the film to its end.
This was a personal project for Jeremy Saulnier – he’s the director, writer and cinematographer – and it’s gained him plenty of recognition, with awards from last year’s Cannes and the Dublin Film Festival this year. It’s not a fully rounded film – there are some gaping holes in the plot – but it’s gripping and thought-provoking at the same time. It’s an unusual mix – rather like a bumbling assassin.
Blue Ruin is screened at Sundance London on Friday, 25 and Sunday, 27 April. It is released in the UK on Friday, 2 May.