The absolute antithesis of the standard cheer-on-the-wronged revenge thriller, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a stripped-down take that unfolds much the way it might in real life.
Accordingly, the film’s everyman protagonist, Dwight (Macon Blair), is hardly glorified: far from the clear-cut hero, he sports a long, wild beard, and if he looks homeless, that’s because he currently is, living out of his rusty old beater. Dwight is a tormented loner, in a constant state of agony, presumably an effect of his parents’ murder 20 years ago. When he learns that the man who’s been serving time for the crime is about to be set free, a long-lost sense of purpose sparks inside him, and with little thought, much less any sort of plan, he sets out to avenge their deaths. And when he does—very messily—he sets off an intractable feud with his victim’s kinfolk that puts his own (an estranged sister and her children) in jeopardy.
How the showdown plays out is unexpected, with startling revelations and sudden, jarringly realistic bursts of violence. Following one particularly graphic death scene, Dwight’s old high-school friend Ben (Devin Ratray), who provides him with weapons and lessons on how to use them, matter-of-factly says to his horror-stricken friend: “That’s what bullets do.” And movies with this kind of concise, direct storytelling can create a looming sense of dread more effectively than any number of grandiose, superficially cathartic displays of implausible retribution ever can.