Think ‘revenge thriller’ and what generally springs to mind is a Schwarzenegger esque figure with a vast amount of weaponry or the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson reminding you that he ‘will find you’. At the very least, you assume that protagonist will be someone who looks comfortable inflicting pain. Although still fitting nicely into this genre of revenge thrillers due to its plot, there is not a whiff of the Liam Neeson type about Blue Ruin. In fact the protagonist of this film doesn’t look at home weilding a gun so much as positively shocked to look down and see it in his hands. Indeed much of Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin contradicts the usual genre conventions, but that is what makes it what it is; a redefinition of a genre which was veering towards caricature, into something lean, gritty, and above all things, heart-stoppingly thrilling.
The film begins with an image of the life of outsider Dwight Evans. He is living out of his car, breaking into people’s houses for baths, and eating out of bins. What we then get is a mysterious and chilling conversation in which a local police officer breaks the news to Dwight that his parent’s murderer is going to be released from prison. What then follows is Dwight’s attempts at revenge, and a visit to his estranged sister, and throughout all of this, very tiny details of the plot are slowly revealed. The film is careful to never give too much away, the reason for revenge is clear at the beginning; his parents were murdered. But as the information does gradually seep out, what is revealed is a complex intertwining of lives, in which life and death create tightly knitted bonds.
Despite absolutely dripping in graphic and brutal violence, Blue Ruin does nothing to glamourise it. Indeed the nature of the films brutality is that violence only ever breeds more violence, particularly in a society which places so much emphasis on the right to bear arms. The plot is not a story of a one-hit revenge, but a never ending back and forth of increasingly bloodthirsty attacks. The ever resilient blue Pontiac, the ‘Blue Ruin’ of the title, which becomes as much a character as any, also signifies the cyclical nature of a revenge saga. It is passed to and fro, until eventually we end as we started and you cannot help but feel like Sisyphus as the rock inevitably falls downwards again.
Macon Blair’s Dwight embodies an ordinary man desperate for revenge. He doesn’t cut an imposing figure, or look remotely capable of extreme violence. What Jeremy Saulnier’s film does however, is explore how grief can push someone over the edge and completely alter them. Blue Ruin is a thrilling tale of just such emotional extremes and is a truly masterful take on a classic genre.