Revenge thrillers come in endless different varieties. From the camp 80s kind crammed with cheesy one liners to the ultra-dark torture porn more acquainted with Saw, there’s no end to the diversity found in the loss of one’s loved ones. And if ever there were a love letter to such a relentless genre, it’s Blue Ruin, the dark-hearted Sundance-fave that provides a brave new dose of realism along with its loving celebration of all that is good (and bad) about good ol’ fashioned vengeance.
To begin, it’s definitely worth noting that the less you know about Blue Ruin’s plot before seeing it, the better. The marketing has been, for once, very sympathetic to the film’s ambiguous tone so the trailers give very little away. The only info worth knowing is pretty much that a homeless man is drawn back to his hometown by a sudden quest for vengeance. As vague as that sounds, it’s for your own good.
What follows is an incredibly dark and earnest thriller, peppered with smatters of pitch-black humour and a fresh new stance that feels as if it could have only ever come from the most recent talent around. I am of course referring to former indie festival-favourite Jeremy Saulnier, the film’s director, writer and cinematographer who whole-heartedly throws everything he has into making Blue Ruin. Every shot is meticulously planned and set beautifully, covering a seemingly familiar but ultimately, oddly surprising tale filled with nothing more than total adoration for the genre.
It’s arguable that plot-lines are recycled on an almost weekly basis, so rarely is it possible to find something original. Now Blue Ruin’s overall narrative is by no means new, but the way its story unravels is nothing short of gripping. Saulnier’s ideas unfold gradually and organically, proving that the content doesn’t have to be something we’ve never seen before in order to prove unpredictable.
Paid for on a string of poorly-sold credit cards, Blue Ruin is arguably as independent as they come, and such an unstable financial status doesn’t exactly entice the most bankable of stars. Instead of a finely-chiseled macho hero, we have Dwight – a literal definition of the every-man driven by intense circumstances – as played by Saulnier’s best friend Macon Blair. Whereas he’s unlikely to hijack any major acting awards any time soon, Blair’s performance is one of well-tuned realism. His believable status as the ‘average joe’ demands bucket-loads of sympathy with very few faltered emotional beats, and his apparent talents for comedic timing prove just as worthwhile. Despite lacking the force and charisma of a more well-known actor, Blair is clearly the perfect man for the role.
The only noticeable flaws in the film’s otherwise winning formula come from just this: it’s an indie film accounting for an indie (non-existent) budget meaning its hopes have to remain politely small. Despite spinning a familiar yarn almost impeccably for a solid 90 minutes, Blue Ruin falls at the final hurdle, never actually taking-off where another movie of its merits usually would. Whether this is simply a problem brought on by basic expectation is debatable, but ultimately after building towards an epic conclusion for the entire duration of the film’s third act, Blue Ruin’s eventual finale falls uncharacteristically flat. One more dodgy credit-card might’ve done the trick.
In spite of its disappointing climax, this is a clever, well-honed and beautifully grounded revenge thriller, bringing an exciting new honesty to a well-worn genre. Its few flat notes can be brushed aside as simple issues of funding and ultimately, as a film it brings more hope to cinema than anything else; the fact its wickedly entertaining as well is merely a welcome bonus. This is revenge served well and truly cold.
Blue Ruin (2014), directed by Jeremy Saulnier, is released in UK cinemas by Picturehouse Entertainment, Certificate 15.