In the film production industry, big budgets are becoming increasing difficult to come by but not having the financial weight behind a project doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a weak film. Director Jeremy Saulnier sacrificed a lot to bring his revenge thriller Blue Ruin to fruition, and it is a clear example of successful small budget creativity. Macon Blair stars as dishevelled drifter Dwight who returns to his hometown to settle an old score with the Cleland family, raising the question of whether or not two wrongs make a right or in taking the law into your own hands, are you then equally to blame as the initial perpetrators?
The plot cleverly deconstructs the revenge genre in showing not only the vengeful act, but putting more emphasise on the repercussions of Dwight’s actions. The style of the film is extremely visually led, and is very light in dialogue. It refuses to spoon feed the story to the audience, and focuses on its lead character and his flawed morals. He gets around in a car even more worn out than he is; his baby blue battered Pontiac is the titular Blue Ruin. Where the anti-hero differs from the calculated killers we are used to seeing onscreen is that he goes about his ways so unconfidently and clumsily, reflected in the shaky-cam technique implemented as he stumbles around with his borrowed firearm.
On the shoestring budget Saulnier had to work with, no recognisable names are to be found in the cast list, but one familiar face as Buzz from Home Alone, Devin Ratray, makes a cameo appearance as Dwight’s gun-loving school friend Ben. The performances are understated and impressive, Blair commanding the screen, relying on an unhinged glazed stare to give an aura of unpredictability. There are some pacing issues, possible down to monetary restraints, and gaps in the story and filled with some aesthetically pleasing sequences that don’t add an awful lot to the film. At times, it appears more time is spent carefully ensuring that blue props are consistently used than there is telling the story. A scene involving garden sprinklers could be an ominous symbol in homage to surrealist filmmaker David Lynch who also famously creates thought provoking cinema and used the same method in his beguiling drama Blue Velvet.
Blue Ruin is a film that is not always entertaining, but always interesting and demonstrates craft at relatively low cost, making a monumental profit at the box office as a result. The sparingly used violence is well handled alongside the suspenseful score and solid acting, all cumulating in a very respectable genre movie that takes the common formula and distorts it to great effect, tackling larger themes of the justice system in the process.