Dwight Evans is a mysterious outsider whose quiet life on the edge is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.
A diabolical crime movie, one that is very original in nature. This is a film where complications ripple forth and I found the mood of this film tense throughout. Dwight is the movie’s slightly odd, an offbeat vagabond who initially appears unstable. A drifter whose fallen off the beaten path of normality. Dwight is a broken man stumbling down his fated road to retribution more in fear than in wrath. Each mounting act of vengeance shatters his broken soul further.
He is woken one morning sleeping in the back of his beater blue Pontiac to be informed that someone has been let out of prison. This bit of information sends our ruined hero on a mission to locate the named offender. Dwight is seeking payback for his slain family.
Eventually he gets back in touch with an old high school metal-head buddy who recalls the year that Dwight disappeared as “the same year El Duce got hit by a train.” Without spoiling the twisted plot, this is like watching a slow motion smash up revolve before you. It is gripping and sad and tense. A quietly stark view into one man’s obsession.
The man referenced in the film, El Duce, is one Eldon Hoke the drummer/singer from infamous West coast rape rock band, the Mentors. I caught the reference immediately as I have long been acquainted with the band as well as having gigged with them over the years. I was quite surprised and amused to hear the reference in the film to Mr Hoke and the Mentors who deserve the cult recognition and I wondered if director Saulnier was also a fan of the band.
Mark Kermode describes the film as: “A stripped-down tale of revenge with bloodied hands and a blackened heart, this viscerally intelligent thriller takes a new stab at an old genre with refreshingly distressing results.”
Writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier delivers us this low-budget masterpiece which is a complex backstory told eloquently, a visual and precise exposition.
Along each twist and turn what is delivered is not quite what you are expecting to find in the dusty dark corners of Dwight’s journey of revenge. Dwight is an interloper to society having fallen through the cracks years ago after a devastating trauma. Kermode best describes this film when he reveals: “Subsequent attempts to buy or steal a weapon set this ragged misfit upon an apparently familiar narrative road, made jarringly unfamiliar by the startling queasiness of the clumsy violence that ensues.” And I can’t think of a better way to really describe this film than this.
It is clumsy and queasy. This is a film about revenge, but it is also a film about the aftermath of this revenge. This is a lurid film. Macon Blair stars as Dwight, a transient who is painstaking, canny and yet, still, inept. While he seeks revenge, the result puts him and his family in even more danger. Our anti-hero is woeful, with a quiet dignity about him that draws us to him.
His Mentors adoring colleague is played spectacularly by Devin Ratray, a gun loving best buddy who is no nonsense and tough as nails. Just the type of guy you would want in your corner in a brawl.
This film had a modest KickStarter target of $38,000, and while Blue Ruin is dark and mesmerising, it also has a stark mastery. The film’s parsimony is turned into pure quality by Saulnier’s thoughtful vision.
Saulnier, writer and director, is a man of vision, a man who believes a story can be told in few words. He depicts Dwight as quietly emotional and deep down we know he really is a good guy at heart. He has a raw honesty in his characterisation, a naiveté. The message throughout is that grief can take a person to an ugly and darkly obsessed place. Dwight’s first mistake in killing the man he believes responsible for the murder of his own family becomes a return vendetta from a disturbing bunch who are willing to turn retaliation into a gruesome family diversion.
The black humoured tone of this film, reminiscent of the Coen brothers, in its modest stark way outshines Tarantino. Saulnier’s Blue Ruin prevails and is a brilliant piece, a rare film that absolutely justifies revenge while maintaining our compassion for our gloomy protagonist to the end.
Background on the director
Director Saulnier made his feature debut in 2007 with Murder Party, a low-budget horror comedy described by its creator as “The Breakfast Club with chainsaws and hard drugs”.
Funded through a mixture of personal savings and Kickstarter campaigns, Blue Ruin was originally rejected at Sundance before making waves at Cannes.
It has drawn comparisons with the early works of the Coen brothers (Blood Simple and Fargo).
Reviewed by Rosdaughr