The line between tension and violence is crossed sporadically and in spectacular fashion throughout revenge thriller “Blue Ruin,” Jeremy Saulnier’s deliberately paced and brilliantly acted (by Macon Blair) indie that has won raves ever since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. And for good reason. “Blue Ruin” is a masterful study in finding the beauty in ugly acts, in subverting expectations and in good old fashioned suspense storytelling.
Blair plays Dwight, who we meet as a drifter taking a bath in someone else’s empty house at the beginning of the film. Even so, it’s clear there’s a dignity to him, telegraphed quite clearly as he reads via flashlight in his car before going to sleep. When Dwight is called into the police station, he thinks he’s in trouble but finds out it’s much worse news – they just wanted to let him know that the man who murdered his parents is getting out of prison. Dwight wastes no time setting his next course of action into motion, and before we know it, a man has been brutally stabbed to death and Dwight finds himself now the target of vengeance in turn.
It’s an entirely clever conceit to begin this revenge thriller where most would end, as Dwight’s story, it soon becomes clear, is not one of vengeance, but one of closure and moving forward, and all the very difficult things we must accomplish before being able to do so. Now that he’s potentially put his surviving family members in danger with one passion-driven reckless act, he finds himself with no choice but to keep up his bloody rampage, though it’s clear he’s no hitman, as he stumbles, sometimes rather absurdly and hilariously, through this.
Saulnier’s film is very light on dialogue, with long stretches of beautiful scenery and slow action carrying on unobstructed by human speech, while never losing the tautness of the pacing or any of that delicious tension. Saulnier relies on plenty of visual cues, like Dwight’s transformation from vengeance-seeker to problem-solver punctuated by shaving off his weeks’ worth of beard and long hair. Suddenly, he no longer looks like a homeless drifter capable of cold-blooded murder, but like a suburban dad, maybe even your socially awkward accountant, and it’s driven home that he’s completely out of his depths after somehow clumsily succeeding in one task.
The pacing is deliberately slow, building culminating scenes of exploding violence up into tension so high it’s almost unbearable, but the endless scenes of Dwight doing seemingly mundane things like driving or setting himself up for the next potentially dangerous encounter are just as riveting. Indeed, it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen at any point during the 90 minute runtime, while the story slowly unfolds itself into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. By the time you wish you could look away, it’s already too late.