Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review: Blue Ruin

Image courtesy of Radius-TWC.
Jeremy Saulnier's "Blue Ruin" is an intense, grim revenge drama that is driven by a strong central performance, some solid visual choices, dark humor and a nerve wracking sense of dread. It has drawn some comparisons to early Coen Brothers films and while I certainly wouldn't put it in the same league as "Blood Simple," it's a pretty gripping experience and, perhaps, a sign of great things to come for its director, whose debut, "Murder Party," is unseen by me.

The film's mostly silent first 15 minutes or so follow a seemingly homeless drifter named Dwight (Macon Blair), who breaks into people's homes to take showers and sleeps in the titular vehicle. He is brought to a police station, not for arrest but to be notified that the man who murdered his parents is being released from prison.

In what would typically take up the course of an entire movie, Dwight follows the released convict after his release and, in a particularly grueling scene, kills him in a dive bar's bathroom during the film's first 30 minutes. Shortly after realizing what he has done, Dwight becomes obsessed with the notion that the convict's family - a violent clan of nasty folk reminiscent of some of the characters from "Winter's Bone" - might seek retribution and for good reason. He warns his estranged sister, who flees town with her young kids, and waits for the dead man's family to come seeking payback.

"Blue Ruin" is brutal, but only in short bursts. The film is not littered with wall-to-wall violence as it would likely have been if a major studio had produced it. Rather, the film builds tension slowly and when violence inevitably occurs, it's pretty shocking.

During one particularly unbearable sequence, Dwight breaks into the home of those stalking him while they are out for the day and waits. And waits. And waits. At one point, a light on a timer clicks on, which nearly gave me a heart attack.

If there's any criticism to be made of "Blue Ruin," it's that the movie is an example of what you see is what you get. In other words, there's no deeper thematic relevance to the revenge story here that you might find in the work of, say, Quentin Tarantino.

But as a tense genre exercise, it's a bit of a doozy. "Blue Ruin" will likely result in frayed nerves and a promising future for its director. Those who enjoy their thrillers bleak and dark won't want to miss this one.

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