We know that revenge never ends well, but we never cease seeking it, and films love depicting it. It’s always captivating to witness a plan unravel, for a character to go too far, for untold consequences to unfold when someone does what we’re ashamed to fantasize about, let alone actually do. Blue Ruin is one such revenge tale, blood-soaked, lean and bleak, a brutal American indie that highlights the talents of stalwart newcomer writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party), and why Kickstarter is revolutionizing movie-making.
Dwight (the visceral and incredible Macon Blair) is one of those haggard men you see collecting bottles on the beach. He breaks into houses when their occupants are on vacation to shower. He lives out of a bullet ridden, dilapidated car, the last vestige of his previous life. When the cops come poking by, we immediately think he’s in trouble. But not so: they warn him that someone has been released from jail, a “double murderer” has been freed. It’s clear this murder involved Dwight’s parents, and this event fractured Dwight’s life, dooming him to beach bum status. Upon receiving the news, Dwight and this film wastes absolutely no time in taking action.
Dwight buys a map, puts the battery back in his car and gasses up with money he’s collected over the years. His car isn’t the only thing that hums to life when Dwight gets back on the road, seeking his parents’ killer.
What’s striking about Blue Ruin is precisely how foolish and inexperienced Dwight is. With his shaggy hair and ragged beard, he looks like a vagrant, maybe even a killer, but once he enacts revenge, it’s clear how little Dwight had planned, how little he thought about the consequences. When he cuts his hair and shaves his face to reveal the frightened, foolish young man beneath (Macon looks like a frumpy American version of John Hannah), you feel shitty because you entertained the idea that this man was a capable killer merely because of how decrepit he looked. The transformation is shocking, and it’s even more shocking how much time remains in the movie.
He tracks down his parent’s killer and his family. It (blue) ruins nothing to say that Dwight gets entirely more than he bargains for, as he lights a fire under the dangerous, murderous Cleland family that is entirely too used to killing and crime. In a way, Dwight revitalizes a decidedly one-sided Hatfields & McCoy’s family feud. He puts his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her children in danger by returning home, putting a target on his remaining family’s back that they didn’t deserve, the only innocents in a film overflowing with guilt.
There’s no turning back for Dwight, and everything that happens seems inevitable, even if completely pointless (yet he has “No Regrets”). There’s more to Dwight’s parents murder than he ever could’ve suspected (a plotty decision that almost derails the grim proceedings), and you wince whenever Dwight involves more people in his turgid affair. Even when that person is ex-military, former high school buddy Ben Gaffney (Devin Ratray AKA Buzz from Home Alone; mind sufficiently blown), who graciously provides guns and the only light-hearted moments that escape the dark and gory blue ruin.
Blue Ruin is what would actually happen if a random guy found himself pitted against an arms-bearing family, and not the glorified Hollywood version of vengeful actions that we’ve seen so many times before. The violence (and blood) comes in disturbing jolts, rather than hypnotic waves. Blue Ruin is a lot harder to sit through because of it, but it’s much more worthy of your attention.