Rather than relying on a heavy doses of expository dialogue, the film allows the ominous score and the visceral imagery to speak for themselves.
Blue Ruin‘s originality doesn’t lie within the story, revenge thrillers are a dime a dozen, it’s the moody presentation and powerful lead performance that sets it apart. This dark indie thriller pulls off the difficult combination of bone-chilling terror infused with bits of comedy, making the film a wonderfully discomforting watch. Director Jeremy Saulnier emptied his bank account to fund the film, but the gamble paid off after a successful film festival run which included the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes. Blue Ruin is one of the most suspenseful films of the year so far.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is a long-haired, bearded vagrant who is first seen taking a bath in someone’s vacant home. He eats what he can find along a beach boardwalk, and he is sometimes forced to dumpster dive for food. One morning Dwight wakes up to a local police officer tapping on the window of his blue 1990 Pontiac Bonneville, a beat-up vehicle that doubles as his home. His first instinct is that someone reported his break-in to the house, but the officer assures him he is not in any trouble. Instead, Dwight receives devastating news that the man responsible for killing his parents 20 years ago, Will Cleland, will soon be released from prison. Before this news has any time to settle, Dwight begins preparing to exact his revenge.
Unlike most films where ordinary people carry out sophisticated plans and use weapons as if it were second nature, Blue Ruin takes a more realistic approach by having its main character struggle with basic killer instincts. Dwight is a quiet, wide-eyed man who is barely able to kill a fly, let alone another human being, so watching his inept performance as an assassin becomes a source of dark comedy and situational irony. At one point, Dwight slashes a tire on a car that he later needs to use as a getaway vehicle and later destroys a gun while attempting to break the lock on it.
While Dwight’s appetite for vengeance far outweighs his ability to actually perform such duties, his biggest flaw is devising plans without considering the consequences. Dwight foolishly believes that killing Will would put an end to this case, failing to consider how the Cleland family will be affected. Dwight eventually realizes the dangerous momentum of the snowball he created, but it has already grown beyond his control by the time he does.
Not only did Jeremy Saulnier handle the writing and directing duties, but Saulnier was also responsible for the cinematography. And what a fine spectacle it is. Blue Ruin is masterfully shot, paying close attention to detail. Although the title of the film is never explicitly explained, blue is present in nearly every scene–from clothing the characters wear, to the vehicles they drive, even the lock on the gun Dwight steals is blue.
Rather than relying on heavy doses of expository dialogue, Blue Ruin allows the ominous score and the visceral imagery to speak for themselves. Taking cues from the masters of suspense before him, Saulnier proves silence is the most powerful tool for creating suspense. Blair deserves recognition for humanizing vengeance through body language and facial expressions, made easier after a physical transformation where the massive beard is shaved off. Blue Ruin is modestly paced for a thriller, but because Dwight’s inevitable death is never more than a moment away, the film is still a white-knuckle experience. The devastating demise of a character is rarely captured better than it is here.