Homeless drop-out Dwight Evans (Blair) learns that the man convicted of his parents’ murders has been released from prison. Setting out to even the score with a revenge killing, Dwight reignites his family’s feud with the Clelands, a powerful, dangerous criminal clan.
For the first reel of Blue Ruin, star Macon Blair plays protagonist Dwight as a hairy, bearded shambles who lives in the wreck of his parents’ Pontiac car (the ruin of the title) and gets by on food foraged from garbage bags, seemingly so numbed by past traumas that he can’t interact with other people. When he learns from a non-stereotyped kindly cop that his parents’ killer is coming out of jail, Dwight puts a battery back in the car — and the human and automotive wrecks surge to life. He shaves, gets back in touch with his sister and tries to obtain a murder weapon — only even in no-background-check America he can’t afford a legal piece, and the gun he steals turns out to have a trigger-lock he can’t break.
Writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier, making his second feature after the 2007 Dungeon Break-Out black comedy Murder Party, visits well-travelled ground in this revenge thriller, but keeps coming up with fresh twists, probing deeper than usual into the effects (and practicalities) of violence. Many revenge movies come hypocritically to the conclusion that violence isn’t the answer after two hours of gleeful and justifiable gore, but this has Dwight get into more trouble and feel more agonised with every act of vengeance or self-defence. When his caveman face-fungus is gone, Blair emerges as a mild-looking, oddly endearing innocent whose sufferings are powerfully affecting.
Saulnier expertly stages sudden shocks — the sounds of shots and stabs as well as the CGI-assisted bodily disruptions are flinch-making — but also works hard on quieter, more observational sequences: Dwight prepares a DIY home-defence when the Clelands besiege his sister’s home as meticulously as he grubs for a living as a street person. Much of the emotional content — Dwight’s interior journey and the mix of grief, fury and spite from his enemies — is expressed wordlessly, though Devin Ratray has a chatty bit as Dwight’s school buddy-turned-weapons supplier.
A lean, tough, thoughtful thriller with depth, Blue Ruin establishes Jeremy Saulnier as a promising indie auteur and Macon Blair as an unusual leading man.