Blue Ruin

US/France | 2013 | Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Logline: An obsessive loner returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance, but winds up in a brutal and messy fight to protect his estranged family.

The sleeper masterpiece of the year is the second feature from a cinematographer-cum-director. A drama that burns with the quiet ferocity of crawling lava, Blue Ruin is just as its title suggests, a tale of wretched revenge soaked in sadness, mired in melancholy, a tragedy of errors. Along with Cheap Thrills, it is one of the best independent American movies I’ve seen in the past five years.

Macon Blair, in a tour-de-force of restrained hysteria, plays Dwight, a disheveled and young man living on the bones of his arse in a pathetic, vagrant existence. But fueled by the memory of his parents’ double murder, and the release of Wade, the apparent culprit, he stumbles into a desperate call of duty: cold-blooded revenge.

After a vicious confrontation with Wade in a bar toilet Dwight finds himself on the run, with the killer’s equally murderous family members in pursuit. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues as Dwight attempts to salvage what he has left in his life by arriving at Sam, his sister’s house.

Blue Ruin is Murphy’s Law incarnate. Everything goes pear-shaped, rotten even. It’s the stripped-back, slow-burn thriller from Hell. Mesmerising, like a horrendous train wreck in slow motion, powerful in its simplicity, as gripping as a wrestler’s handshake, and packing a serious visceral punch. Not forgetting a pitch black sense of humour that occasionally rears its head.

The movie was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, which goes to prove just how useful crowdfunding can be if the right people are on board the right project. It’s very inspiring to struggling filmmakers. I’ve no idea what the budget was, but Jeremy Saulnier and his producers used it very wisely and very effectively. One of the more striking poster designs of recent years too.

I must bring to attention the superb special effects make-up, courtesy of Toby Sells Creature Make up FX Shop. The set-pieces for Blue Ruin were better than many horrors I’ve seen recently, in particular, a screwdriver to the temple, removing an arrow from the thigh, and a high-powered rifle shot to the head. These were executed with a level of genuinely horrific, shocking realism.

If the scenes of violence hadn’t been done as impressively as they were the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as affecting, because Blue Ruin is an intense study of violence; the appalling domino/snowball effect revenge inexorably creates. Perfectly drawn, beautifully shot.