Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sitting in a stranger’s bath because the car was too cold.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Format: Digital Film on Canon EOS C300 with Canon L-Series Lenses.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier.
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier.
Cinematographer: Jeremy Saulnier.
Awards: Won the Cannes Film Festival 2013 FIPRESCI Prize for Director’s Fortnight and more.
‘Gritty’ action films are a dime a dozen these days, it’s a caveat that has lost its meaning in the world of cinema, until recently. Blue Ruin (2013) is a stripped down, not-a-clue-how-to-kill-a-person action film that is guided only by unfettered reality. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin is a testament to a number of cultural currents in modern film making; the first being crowdfunding communities, as it was successfully funded, in part, through Kickstarter (and Saulnier’s own personal savings). The film opposes the ‘no man is an island’ aphorism, as Saulnier is also the cinematographer on the piece; the results of which are utterly breath taking as no shot is left unconsidered artistically, visually or functionally. As for the movie itself, the narrative follows the vagrant beach dweller, Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) who, upon finding out that his father’s killer has been released from jail, embarks on a tumultuous, skin-crawling and clumsy revenge mission.
You might have seen Macon Blair in Saulnier’s first film, Murder Party (2007), a comedy horror about one lonely man’s struggle to find friends on Halloween; a slightly sloppy and contrived first endeavour in comparison to the precision of Blue Ruin. If not, watch him here. Blair is brilliantly harrowing, constantly juggling sadness, desperation and seething vengeance throughout the movie. As a quiet and unassuming reject turned killer, Dwight is uncannily honest and compelling. Much of the film’s ‘grit’ comes from the style of film making itself. Shot entirely on digital film, the pictures are sharp, crisp and presented for what they are. However, that is not to say the cinematography isn’t staggeringly rich and artistic. Jeremy Saulnier is a careful and precise cinematographer with an eye for depth and knowledge of how to take to the ‘bite’ out of digital film. In short, the whole cast and crew of Blue Ruin are superb, ranging from Eve Plumb as the inclement Kris Cleland, to Devin Ratray as Ben Gaffney, the obscure friend of Dwight that agrees to arm him on his murderous spree.
Unlike most modern revenge thrillers, exhausting the antihero trope of righting wrongs with further wrongs in a libertarian fashion whilst expounding everyman rhetoric, this film is a refreshing exercise in the grim realities of violence and the solipsistic individual. Dwight’s revenge is his own; he is a loner and a victim of human weakness in the face of immense pain and anger, but, we can partially empathise with him because he does not transcend the violence he creates, he simply experiences it in real time like his audience. It is no coincidence that this film is not concerned with what happened before, but with what happens next. There are parts of this film that border on the satirical, making the mechanics of the narrative’s brutality that much more shocking and critical. As one of this site’s favourite film critics, Mark Kermode, points out in his review, the film pays homage to Sam Peckinpah’s brutal Straw Dogs (1971) adaption, an apt comparison as both films highlight the lack of triumph, resolve and heroism in revenge. Vengeance is a personal journey: Blue Ruin shows us Dwight Evans’s.