When you practically open your film with a homeless man stabbing another man in the face in a public restroom, you pretty much set yourself up for one of those expected crazy horror-type movies, and so within the first twenty minutes or so of ‘Blue Ruin’ I was, wholly, anticipating some sort of Rob Zombie, homeless man on a rampage, blood soaked yet entirely forgettable and pointless lesson on gore and how to coat every frame with it.
Yeah, ‘Blue Ruin’ is not that kind of movie.
That isn’t to say that ‘Blue Ruin’ isn’t a terrifying film, but it is a smart kind of terrifying, a film that understands the strength of subtlety, and despite a pretty abrasive and blunt opening (like, that bathroom scene is remarkably intense), it shows so much restraint in the building of each moment that the bigger moments truly explode with impact. This is one of those films that makes good on the slow burn, allowing us to soak in the anticipation of the inevitable and then, it just takes your breath away.
Like I said, ‘Blue Ruin’ opens with a bang. For the first ten minutes or so we pretty much watch a homeless man, in silence, go about his every day; bathing in the homes of strangers, rummaging trash for food, sleeping in his rusty heap of a car…and then he’s approached by a police officer, who is obviously a friend, and then handed a newspaper and next thing we know, this man, now identified as Dwight, stabs a man in the face in a bathroom and then leaves, but he leaves behind him a trail, a trail that he needs to get rid of.
And then the story gaps start to fill in.
Dwight’s parents were murdered ten years ago. This basically sent Dwight into a depression that wrecked him to the point where he became a nomad, a wandering homeless man with no connections to his former life, including his sister who has done her best to move on and is now married with children. The newspaper reported on the release of the parent’s murderer, and the man Dwight killed in the bathroom was, to his knowledge, the man responsible for his overbearing pain. But it’s not that simple, and it’s not that clear. You see, this is a story about family, about vengeance and about some really messed up stuff, and with an unreported murder, it became clear that Dwight’s act of vengeance was not about to go unnoticed. No, even more vengeance was in the air, and the trail Dwight left, unfortunately, led back to his sister. Intent on ending things before they went that far, Dwight sends his sister away and holes up in his sister’s house waiting for things to happen.
And then they happen…and continue to happen.
I don’t want to say much more, plot-wise, because the way that Jeremy Saulnier builds this film is so incredible that you need to see this to appreciate it. I have never been this nervous watching a film. It doesn’t hurt that Macon Blair (a completely new face/name to me) is completely in this every step of the way. His development of character is remarkable, and his depiction of grief, destitution, anger and pain is uncanny. The way his eyes well up when he sees the man he loathes released from prison, the way he stares, blank and weary, after his initial actions…the way he cuts that arrow out of his leg! My god, he sells it so hard.
Some may consider ‘Blue Ruin’ just your typical thriller, and in some respects they’d be right. There is nothing new here, story-wise. It’s not some incredibly intelligent film, but it is a brilliantly constructed film. Sometimes it isn’t about the story you’re telling but the way you tell that story, and Saulnier and Blair tell this story brilliantly.
‘Deliverance’ meets ‘Straw Dogs’ meets ‘The Brave One’; ‘Blue Ruin’ is one of the very best thrillers I’ve seen in a very long time!
A, for sure, and highly recommended.