Revenge can be a dirty, dark business. No act ever taken in the name of vengeance is without some kind of aftereffect – usually serving as only an escalation of the act that preceded it. Revenge can be an unholy toxin that poisons everything – and director Jeremy Saulnier’s new film Blue Ruin understands that better than most.
Based on an original script by Saulnier, Blue Ruin begins following an aimless, disheveled drifter named Dwight (Macon Blair) who has lived on the outskirts of society ever since his parents were murdered years before. His life finds purpose, however, when he learns that the man held responsible for the crime is being released from prison early. Bloodthirsty for redemption, Dwight makes a plan to kill the man who took everything away from him, and must deal with the critical and dangerous consequences that action leads him towards.
While filmmakers have made a habit of infusing revenge films with a sense of fun that allows the audience to share in the protagonist’s feeling of vengeance, Blue Ruin is a very different kind of movie. Subtracting Hollywood hyperbole and even a certain stylishness that can lighten brutality, Saulnier’s work is instead grippingly realistic and, at points, hard to watch. There really are no moments of levity in the film - be it a quippy line of dialogue or a funny sight gag – but that just makes the film all the more impressive for its ability to maintain terrific and constant tension through the plot. Audiences won’t feel the satisfying sense of vengeance, but Blue Ruin does deliver a heavy emotional punch of its own deep, dark variety.
Saulnier’s unafraid of his material, and his photography pulls no punches. Dwight takes no pleasure in the violence he delivers, and so the audience experiences that horror right along with him to incredible, visceral effect. Even when the violence is done, the writer/director doesn’t let you forget about it, with the number of scars and wounds and amount of blood stains ever increasing as the movie goes on (not to mention shots of Dwight’s face struck with a permanent mixed expression of determination and “what have I done.”) Brought together with the gloomy backdrop of backwoods Virginia, Blue Ruin creates an intense atmosphere that lingers – whether you want it to or not.
As evidenced by the tight 90-minute run time, Blue Ruin is lean and tightly-paced, though there are the occasional slow-downs. The film’s atypical approach to the classic revenge plot – focusing more on the consequences of the revenge than the revenge itself – leaves the story wholly unpredictable, as it’s never quite clear what Dwight’s next step is going to be. There is also a great rising action lent to the film not just through the escalation of the drama but also the slow reveal of answers to an important mystery: whyy Dwight’s parents were killed in the first place.
There’s a special challenge in recommending a movie like Blue Ruin, as appreciation for it directly comes from the fact that its darkness is able to creep and lodge itself under your skin. All the same, it’s a movie made with terrific filmmaking and storytelling technique, and solidifies Jeremy Saulnier as a director to keep an eye on.