Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a head-turner, the kind of low-budget thriller that makes one sit up and take notice of what could be a special talent. By its basest description, the movie doesn’t sound special.
It stars Macon Blair as Dwight, a homeless man who recycles cans and bottles for money, while spending each evening sleeping in his car. Saulnier initially introduces us to Dwight roaming the town going about his solitary, silent business. He is then awoken by a police officer and details of Dwight’s life are sprinkled onto the narrative. We learn that Dwight’s parents were both murdered when he was young, with the convicted killer about to be released from prison. Dwight gathers what he can, fixes up his car and heads to the prison with one goal; kill the man who killed his parents.
Then things get tricky.
Major plot details won’t be shared here, but the movie isn’t about Dwight plotting the eventual demise of this man. Instead, Blue Ruin is about the fallout of what occurs after a – relatively – ordinary man attempts to kill somebody. There are a flood of complications and terrors that await Dwight, presented as grizzly and slyly comedic. The easy comparison people have made for Saulnier’s movie is the Coens’ debut feature Blood Simple and it’s an apt one. Saulnier crafts tension out of silence, letting the sound of every moment that surrounds Dwight echo all the louder without a score to tell you when the action will occur.
The violence is visceral and in-your-face. In Blue Ruin, an arrow to the leg doesn’t result in a macho removal and sprint to more action. Instead, Saulnier has the pain linger from one scene to the next, with occasional laughs at the various characters’ ineptitude at dealing with their wounds. Saulnier’s images, of which he composed, find the shaggy towns of rural Virginia to be rich with endless woods surrounded by the blackest of nights.
It’s all gripping, with a to the bone atmosphere that comments on the cyclical nature of revenge and the way it brings out humanity’s basest emotions. Fans of grim and gritty pictures will eat it up, but the movie has more on its mind than just exploitation calories.
Blue Ruin is now available On Demand and opens in limited release in Seattle Friday.