Violence has consequences. Too many films forget this these days. Jeremy Saulnier’s unusual indie Blue Ruin, which has appeared out nowhere, fortunately hasn’t. Defying expectations, Blue Ruin is a revenge thriller for people who don’t really like revenge thrillers (and for those who do).
Our hero, if you want to use that word, is called Dwight. He is brilliantly played by Macon Blair whose presence grounds the film. Dwight did not use to be a cop; he is not ex-military or secret service. He does not possess a “very particular set of skills” or a gravelly voice. On the contrary, he seems to lack some very basic skills when it comes to human interaction. When we meet him, he has no place in society. Since his parents were murdered, he has been drifting through life; his home is a derelict old car. One day, the past he is trying to escape catches up with him. A policewoman stops by and informs him that the killer has been released from prison. Rather reluctantly, as if he has no other choice, he decides to take his revenge. This not only confronts him with a murderer, but his entire gun-crazy redneck family.
Blue Ruin is a rather impressive piece of filmmaking, building palpable tension. There is a constant air of dread and danger, rounded off by a dark sense of humour. The camera rarely stands still, slowly creeping forward, backwards or sideways, bringing certain restlessness to the film. The beautiful, rural locations give it a sense of place and build the atmosphere. Everything looks used and there seem to be guns everywhere. Advancing at a slow pace, Saulnier takes the time to develop his characters and asks interesting questions about the nature of revenge. It may be a dish best served cold, but once consumed, it can leave you hungry for more. Or it can inspire others to start cooking up a nice pot of vengeance of their own. Violence leads only leads to more violence.
The brutality feels real and ugly. Crucially, it is never easy. There are no elaborate car chases or unrealistic shootouts. There is no macho hero who saves the day by killing a bunch of bad guys. What we have is something much more interesting: an insecure, inexperienced everyman who faces some incredibly difficult decisions. The brutality is always necessary and never glorified. Injuries are like real wounds, not movie wounds: they hurt. You might want to cover your eyes when Dwight pulls an arrow out of his leg.
It may be a little rough around the edges, but Blue Ruin is not afraid to grapple with big ideas while delivering an interesting twist on the revenge thriller. Bleak, tense and entertaining, it establishes Jeremy Saulnier as a filmmaker to watch.