Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writers: Jeremy Saulnier
Actors: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
“The Keys are in the car…”
Its very rare to watch a pair of eyeballs dominate a film quite so comprehensively as those of Macon Blair do in indie art house thriller Blue Ruin. Despite his minimal dialogue and withdrawn character, Blair still manages to convey every ounce of the inner torment which haunts his character Dwight. His ‘thousand yard stare’ is so convincing, at times it seems as if the director has stuck a shell shocked and bewildered war veteran in front of the camera.
Dwight is an isolated drifter living on the fringes of a small town, scratching a living a living from the back of a clapped out car and scavenging his meals from left overs and bins. he is taken away by a police officer and given a fresh bolt of terror with news that someone from his past has been released from prison.
Revealing too much of the plot would be a mistake given that Blue Ruin unfolds as a kind of mystery with the viewer kept firmly in the dark until the latter stages. There is little context given to set up the events which unfold, nor is there much exposition to keep the viewer up to speed. The visceral violence and terror, and the rapid escalation of the stakes is what pulls you along, and the mystery makes the ride all the more thrilling. It is a technique used in many good lo-fi thrillers like Dead Man’s Shoes, resulting in hours of contemplation afterwards and instantly demanding a rewatch.
Blue Ruin is another entry in the recently flourishing tradition of American independent cinema which adds some epic narrative to the lives of small town folk in rust belt shit holes. Most recently Out of the Furnace excelled in crafting an impressively cinematic (and slightly overly dramatic) folk tale of vengeance and feuding families. The cocktail of grim environs, washed out colours and dangerously brooding characters is powerful when done correctly, and Blue Ruin perhaps raises the bar to new heights.
The visual splendour which has been somehow wrung out of such a drearily ordinary looking place is the work of true artistry. Director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier demonstrating he belongs to that rich vein of incredible talent which seems to abound in small scale American independent film. Even choosing the pictures for this article was a painful dilemna as each still looks so perfectly framed and drawn. On this evidence at least, Saulnier has shown his potential to be a master of cleverly thought out and beautifully implemented sequences. There are a whole variety of techniques and tones; from capturing dramatic lighting, to stark emotive close ups. There are too many examples to gush over all at once, but one particularly memorable scene follows Dwight’s car driving through empty roads into a foreboding rural region under a veil of increasingly thick fog. The build up leaves no mistaking the impending trouble Dwight is heading toward.
But don’t let all of this pretentious babble fool you into thinking this is a typically slow paced and boring art house film. Saulnier is equally adept at building highly memorable scenes of tension and violent action which hold a real sense of danger. One of the first confrontations which happens very early in the proceedings is a particularly quick and violent blur of events, yet the surprisingly simple set up isn’t easily forgotten.
Though there is plenty of action throughout it is always constrained by a hyper realism and attention to detail to almost everything which happens. Fights and injuries have real consequences. And there is one particular moment of brilliant realism with a gunshot which will either leave you hiding behind a cushion or smirking with glee depending how strong your stomach.
There are a few moments of frustration where characters make bewilderingly stupid choices, seemingly just like in horror movie where the next stage of the plot needs to be set up smoothly, but it rarely frustrates too much.
Blue Ruin explores similar themes as many age old ‘eye for an eye’ morality tales, even sharing much in common with Romeo and Juliet and other classics. Two families tragically caught in an violent feud which has an edge of inevitability to its conclusion, though with its own twist.
The end has a highly satisfying set up and finds all the right moments to wrap up most of the loose ends, yet leaving just enough to leave the audience with some room for interpretation and ‘what if’ discussion.
A worthily thoughtful ending for a masterful film.