If revenge is a dish best served cold, then it’s never tasted so deliciously chilly than this stripped-back modern classic.
Looking for funding to help complete his sophomore feature through Kickstarter, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier pitched Blue Ruin as “not your standard revenge film. It does not glorify violence; it does not justify violence. It does the opposite”.
Thank goodness the public stepped in to hand over their hard-earned cash to help Saulnier deliver on that promise and turn in a truly subversive take on the traditional revenge picture.
Beach bum Dwight’s (Macon Blair) sheltered and reclusive life takes a hellish turn when he receives sickening news from an unlikely source. The revelation sets Dwight on a self-destructive path of revenge that leads to a bloody and unremitting aftermath he is ill-prepared for.
Blue Ruin has invited comparisons to the Coens, specifically their noirish debut Blood Simple, although the sombre and haunted No Country For Old Men feels like a more suitable reference point, right down to the similarity of the two films’ posters.
The comparison to Joel and Ethan’s work is understandable, but somewhat depressing as it underlines just how rare films of this ilk are in American cinema.
Revenge movies invariably fall into the tried and tested constraints described by Saulnier in his Kickstarter pitch and adopt an ends-justify-the-means approach. Those films tend to conclude with the ‘happy ending’ of the revenge having been successfully realised, but Blue Ruin takes the entirely darker approach of showing what happens next.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that violence begets violence and Saulnier’s picture isn’t afraid to have Dwight traverse an increasingly bleak and bloody road to hell.
The violence, when it does come, is startling and visceral. There are no winks at the audience or satisfied one-liners; merely chaos, confusion and terror.
Clocking in at exactly 90 minutes, the film doesn’t waste a single shot. Dwight is shown in the near-wordless opening reel as a pretty methodical guy, all be it someone living out of a rusted old car. Upon receiving his news, he quickly turns his attention to the mission at hand, but it’s when the act of revenge is complete that Dwight discovers any semblance of control he had no longer exists and all bets are off.
As much as this is Saulnier’s film, so too is it Blair’s. It’s a refreshing performance, one that has a through-line of everyman authenticity to it. Dwight’s no macho action hero; he’s a broken shell with nothing to live for except to save his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her kids from harm. Blair’s saucer-like eyes are deeply expressive and sell the fear and bewilderment his character endures throughout.
Concluding his Kickstarter pitch, Saulnier staked his career on the promise that he’d do good by those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it’s safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded.