By Linc Leifeste | April 24, 2014
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock, Sidné Anderson
Revenge films are an interesting lot. At their core, they’re appealing to the most base, masculine, reptilian impulse in our hearts: You’ve done something cruel to me and now I’m going to do something even more cruel back to you. When I was a kid and when I was a young man, I loved a good revenge film. But as I aged and labored to indulge my lawless lizard lusts less, revenge flicks lost a lot of their luster (although I held on to my love of alliteration). That said, the appetite has always remained for stories that indulge that perpetually flickering, just under the surface, burning desire to seek revenge for slights, real and imagined. But at this point in my life its only satisfying for me if the material can achieve the all-too-rare feat of approaching the subject manner in a way that is both visceral and nuanced, satisfying on a primal level yet also thought-provoking, maybe even cautionary, in nature.
All of that to say that Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is the shit when it comes to revenge films. But it’s more than just a revenge film. It’s a masterful, tightly crafted blend of genres: revenge, horror, action, black comedy. It strips the classic revenge premise down to its bare bones and then rattles them around until they take a new shape. For example, how do you go about getting revenge against a violent criminal when you’re too poor to buy a gun and wouldn’t know the first thing about using it even if you managed to acquire one? Or what if it turns out that the person you’re seeking revenge against didn’t actually commit the act that’s put you on the road to revenge?
The star of the film, and without a doubt its heart and soul, is Macon Blair, who plays the film’s protagonist, Dwight, with a stunning blend of reserve and steely determination. A man of few words, he communicates eloquently with his deep, soulful eyes. When the films opens, he’s living a vagrant lifestyle, with long hair and beard and soiled clothes, eating out of dumpsters and living in an old car. But when he finds out that the murderer of his parents is being released from prison, he’s moved to action and in the process is transformed. But as we all know, violent acts have consequences and just as Dwight is compelled to do what he does, his acts set in motion an unstoppable sequence of ever-increasing violence, that by the film’s brutal end left me with a slight sense of excess.
Because Blue Ruin is a film that works best when you go in not knowing too much, I’ll restrain from any further plot recap. But suffice it to say that it’s a beautifully shot film (Saulnier is an experienced, respected cinematographer); its tension hooks you viscerally from the beginning and its emotionally moving plot holds you tightly in its taut grip for its lean 90-minute running time, but like the best films of any genre there’s an intellectually nuanced undercurrent that will leave viewers questioning their more basic instincts and emotions even while reveling in them.