This review was originally written for Cherwell
‘Flawlessly constructed, Jeremy Saulnier’s refreshingly original revenge thriller is a captivating triumph’
The use of vengeance as a motivating factor has a long history in film. Cinematically speaking, it’s as old as the hills and generally as predictable as a wasp on speed. Yet with Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier has managed to create an edge-of-your-seat revenge thriller that is refreshingly infused with originality.
Macon Blair plays Dwight, a straggly-bearded drifter who lives in his car, rarely communicates with anyone and spends his days hunting for food in dumpsters. When he is informed that the man convicted of murdering his parents is being released from prison, Dwight decides to drive to Virginia and avenge his mother and father. As ensuing events spiral out of control, old wounds reopen, family becomes pitted against family, and Dwight is forced to resort to more violence to protect his sister (Amy Hargraves) and her children.
Blair is masterful as the near-silent protagonist. The film is almost wordless during the opening 20 minutes as Dwight’s brooding persona is established; his dishevelled appearance lends him a diffidence that is somehow intimidating. This foreboding meekness is not lost when he exchanges the unkempt beard and faded clothing for an office-worker’s neatly combed mop and some good ol’ beige slacks, and the disparity between his appearance and his activities is a rich source of undefined apprehension. Blair expertly manages to simultaneously convey timidity and unpredictability, an skin-crawlingly effective combination.
This unsettling tension seeps through the entire film and one is uncomfortably aware that Dwight is not acting scrupulously. What begins as a tale of righteous retribution mutates into something altogether nastier. Hostility is met with resentment. Violence begets violence. Saulnier skilfully shifts the focus from Dwight’s seemingly moral crusade onto the corrupting nature of retaliation, the undignified perpetuity of grudge-holding. There is no catharsis, only a galling awareness of something rotten.
On the surface, Dwight is an archetypal antihero, lacking in charisma and charm yet likeable for his shyness and incompetence. Yet there is more; his determination is somehow repellent and the aforementioned incongruity of his appearance and intentions, far from endearing him to the viewer, renders him mildly detestable. That said, there is something appealing about Dwight and his humble ineptitude. One cannot help but sympathise with his puppy-dog eyes and eternally miserable demeanour.
Saulnier instils the film with a captivating sense of impending tragedy. Blue Ruin drifts from scene to scene with apparent languor yet one is never relaxed. There is an oppressiveness to its steady progression, a descending air of inevitability that effortlessly draws the audience in and accompanies the plot’s unfolding ugliness perfectly. One feels helpless in Saulnier’s grip, teased by every shot.
Blue Ruin is a film flawlessly constructed. Jeremy Saulnier’s impressively authoritative direction and Macon Blair’s laudably nuanced performance perfectly compliment a fascinatingly immersive plot.