Backwoods thriller mixing Gothic melancholia with artfully foreshadowed bursts of violent action
A big hit of the festival circuit, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s backwoods drama is a twisty thriller that sits somewhere in the jet-black hinterland between Winter’s Bone and the less showy Coen brothers films like Blood Simple or Fargo. The run-down feel of the town of Delaware is matched by the haggard central character, a vengeful assassin who gets into a conflict that takes him far over his head.
Things start out simply enough: Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) is a vagrant living in his car, bearded, disheveled and living on scraps of food he finds in dumpsters. When he hears news that Will Cleland (David W Thompson), a man that Dwight holds responsible for his parents’ death, has plea-bargained his way out of jail, Dwight realises he has nothing much to lose and plots a bloody revenge. But his poorly thought-out actions have consequences, and not the complications with the law that Dwight expects; his initial success opens up a can of worms with the Cleland family that Dwight is ill-equipped to deal with.
Like its protagonist, Blue Ruin rises to the occasion in dour fashion, mixing Gothic melancholia with artfully foreshadowed bursts of violent action, and using knives and guns to gruesomely potent effect. Rarely off-screen, Blair gives a haunting performance, making a transformation from a sidelined no-hoper to a man fighting tenaciously for his life with genuine gravity. Also serving as cinematographer, Saulnier’s eye for detail conjures up a wasteland of humanity from the rural Virginia backdrops that Dwight traverses in his beat-up car.
Blue Ruin is a simple story well told; it marks promising work from both Saulnier and Blair, and delivers on its promises of a tightly-wound descent into hell. Dwight’s journey is an unpredictably painful one, and Blue Ruin makes the audience feel every painful step along the way.
Limited release from Fri 2 May.