Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier.
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring: Macon Blair (Dwight), Devin Ratray (Ben Gaffney), Amy Hargreaves (Sam), Kevin Kolack (Teddy Cleland), Eve Plumb (Kris Cleland), David W. Thompson (William), Brent Werzner (Carl Cleland), Stacy Rock (Hope Cleland), Sidné Anderson (Officer Eddy), Bonnie Johnson (Margaret), Ydaiber Orozco (Amanda).
Stories about revenge are amongst the oldest stories in history – and movies about revenge have been around since the beginning. The reason is simple – revenge stories are simple, visceral, violent and instantly relatable. Who doesn’t at least sympathize with someone trying to get revenge on the people who wronged them? Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is in many ways a classic revenge story – the story of a man who sets out to get vengeance on the man who killed his parents. But Saulnier subtly twists the genre – not enough that he’s twisting the genre just to be clever or for the sake of twisting it, but enough that the film keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen – and the reasons behind it.
The film starts Macon Blair, in a brilliant performance, as Dwight. When he first meet him, he seems like a homeless man – long hair, scraggily beard, dirty clothes, digging through dumpsters and sleeping in his old, beat up car. These early scenes – that are largely wordless – are among the best in the movie, and Blair’s performance is subtle, yet holds the screen. When he is told that the man who killed his parents has been paroled, he packs up his car, and drives to get his revenge. He’s there when the man is released from jail, and follows him to a bar. After a confrontation is the bathroom – that ends with the result he wanted, but still counts as a screw-up, Dwight is forced to get ready to kill even more people. Cutting his hair and shaving his beard makes Dwight look like a mild mannered accountant – and when he visits his sister, he is still barely able to get himself to talk above whisper. He knows that the family of the dead man – criminals in their own right – isn’t going to let him get away with what he did, so he prepares for more.
But Dwight does not all of a sudden become a Charles Bronson, Death Wish-type killing machine. The confrontations are often end the way he wants to, but are clumsy, bloody, messy, and end with him being hurt. And when he gets hurt, he stays hurt. One of the best sequences in the movie involves an arrow wound he gets to the leg. The movie sets it up like a typical scene – with Dwight going to the store to get everything he needs to remove the arrow, and stitch himself up himself – but ends in a much more realistic way.
That type of scene – setting it up like a normal revenge movie would, but ending in a different, more realistic way, pretty much describes the movie as a whole as well. I won’t spoil the secrets of the movie, but needless to say, things are not as simple as Dwight thought they were. In some ways, the movie is like Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance – except instead of going over the top, and trying to screw with the audiences head, Saulnier tries to bring things back down to earth. The end result is the same though – the main character realizing that he, and everyone else, would have been much better off had they not started down the path to vengeance in the first place. This may not be an overly original message – but it’s still effective in the hands of Saulnier, and Blair.
Blue Ruin is micro budgeted filmmaking at its best. Saulnier, who has only directed one other film – the horror comedy Murder Party (unseen by me), used Kickstarter to fund the movie, and unlike some more recent projects that used the website, didn’t have a name brand to fall back on. This is stripped to the bone, raw, bloody filmmaking – expertly written and directed, and whose acting is better than most films with bigger budgets, and names. It may not be the most original film of the year – but it’s still great filmmaking.