Posted May 25, 2014 by William Dunmyer in Indie Thriller

Blue Ruin: Gripping Thriller

The ultra-low-budget Blue Ruin is a tour de force of brutal realism and a stunning filmmaking debut from Jeremy Saulnier. Note Saulnier’s name; you will be hearing more of him in the future. He is a major new talent.

Macon Blair plays Dwight, an ordinary guy from a suburban middle-class background whose life is shattered when his parents are murdered. As the film opens, the man convicted of the crime is being released from prison. Disheveled, hirsute Dwight, who has long been living in the blue car in which his parents were killed, is bent on revenge.

The problem is that the ex-con belongs to a backwoods clan that will protect their own to the death. Thus Dwight ends up in a war with an army of hillbillies who have violence in their blood. The film is so realistic and filled with so much tension that you can barely breathe while watching it.

In some ways, Blue Ruin reminds one of The Blair Witch Project (1999). As with Blair Witch, here you have a group of friends fresh out of film school with no industry connections scraping together a few thousand dollars to make a raw, very direct film with a sense of fear so palpable you can taste it.

Instead of relying on fancy effects, expensive lighting, ornate set decoration, costumes, and all that movie-making frippery, these hand-made films rely simply on the power of their stories and the ability of the actors and director to deliver them — cinema stripped down to its spine-tingling essence.

In addition to Blair Witch, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Debra Hill’s and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) also come to mind. These are other micro-budget films made by unknowns that became touchstones of modern cinema.

I love it when ordinary movie lovers living in the middle of nowhere pick up cameras and change the course of film history.

The big difference between Blue Ruin and those other films, however, is that Blue Ruin is not a horror film. Its production values may be reminiscent of Chainsaw Massacre, but it is not horror.

On the surface, Blue Ruin is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. On deeper levels though, it explores what can happen to an eminently civilized person when pushed too far. Similar to Dustin Hoffman’s character in 1971’s Straw Dogs, Dwight is a soft, cuddly guy whose toughest challenge in life thus far has been pushing himself to get A’s instead of B’s in college.

What can happen inside such a person when unspeakable violence occurs? Blue Ruin does not go very far in exploring this. Its dialogue stays resolutely focused on moving the plot along. But Blair has a number of quiet scenes, where you can read a million things on his face and in his eyes. You can see a soul that has been devoured by life, a young man who would have otherwise had a picture-perfect suburban life with a successful middle-tier career, a wife and kids, and a nice house.

Jeremy Saulnier is capable of making taut thrillers, and that’s great. But he’s capable of a lot more. With Blue Ruin, he’s just scratching the surface of his talent. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.