Jeremy Saulnier’s unusual tale of wrath is a satisfying addition to the contemporary American independent film canon.
Opening by the ocean, home to dishevelled Dwight and the contradictory backdrop of a tourist trap, Blue Ruin follows the path to vengeance all so typically common of this particular strain of world cinema. But while the beats are hit, the order falls askew, leading to a tale of familiarity told in anything but a tongue of such.
It’s here that the film feels most alive, which is neatly ironic given the figures being charted by Saulnier’s camera. Dwight is lifeless, an almost-mute, his head covered with swathes of hair that disguise his every being. This film is one full of jarring moments of forceful epiphany, with the drama punctuated by an unforgiving sense of itself (the protagonist aside nary a second character appears on screen for more than a single scene or instance, with figures coming and go-ing in the bling of an eye), but there’s no more dramatic a reveal than in the “true identity”, for want of a better term, of Dwight himself. On the lam, Dwight is shorn of the layers of hair that covers his head, both beard and straggles of locks. He looks… normal. It’s with this that the viewer is forced to reevaluate the sights they have seen in the films opening act. It makes us question our initial reading of the man we were chasing all along.
Blue Ruin plays like a post-millenial cover of a Johnny Cash song, a simple premise rendered with a rich texture, at once both recognisable and refreshing. The aforementioned skewing of the familiar plot beats that one expects to meet in such a tale renders the whole thing as a tad subversive. It’s what we might expect, but not necessarily how we might expect it. No good ever comes of one seeking vengeance, we already know that thanks to decades of movies and millennia’s of stories. Escalation flows from where any heady act begins, and so it is with Saulnier’s film. Dwight is soon trapped in an unfixable situation, with downward the inevitable direction.
There’s too a sense of familiarity within the ode to Americana that is the films aesthetic palette. The brothers Coen are the obvious cultural touching point, with their macabre, matter-of-fact, inverted American Dream almost shorthand for this branch of the US cinema scene, but it’s in the pre-blockbuster work of Sam Raimi, a Coen collaborator in a former life, in the shadow of which Blue Ruin stands most stoically. There’s much of his A Simple Plan to be seen here, while on two occasions the most unlikely of bedfellows, The Evil Dead, is brought to mind, while Raimi’s ever-present Oldsmobile offers further allusion in Blue Ruin’s namesake Pontiac). It’s an unexpected companion for an unconventional film, and one which lives up to a promise made by Saulnier in the opening paragraph of the film’s original Kickstarter campaign note: “A revenge film equally suited for art house cinephiles and die-hard genre fans”.