Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray
4 (out of 5) Globes
Moviegoers are used to seeing — and usually ignoring — characters engage in inane behavior. The on-simmer indie thriller “Blue Ruin” is one that actually embraces stupidity. That’s not to say the film is stupid. It’s populated by people who act recklessly and without thought for the future. But unlike in most films that violate logic and sense, they don’t get off scot-free. They’re punished, as are others. In fact, it’s about the loose ends left in the wake of an act of dumb, pointless violence.
The act in question is vengeance. When we first see him, Dwight (Macon Blair) is bearded but baby-faced — a half-formed human who lives as a small town vagrant. (He looks like an emaciated Zach Galifianakis.) Occasionally he sneaks into homes and takes a bath. His non-existence is uprooted when he discovers that the man who killed his parents has been released from prison. Sleepy-eyed and childlike, he suddenly snaps into gear, driven with calculated obsession to find this man and shove a knife into his temples.
But what comes next? Dwight has a sister (Amy Hargreaves) who became a suburban mom. And his killing has left a family of angry, gun-wielding psychos ready to take out Dwight or her or her family or all of the above. Consumed with revenge, Dwight didn’t think through the many repercussions, from the major to the minor, including where he put his escape car keys or if he even knows how to fire a rifle. Even worse, it’s suggested that the story of his parents’ death may not be so cut-and-dry as it is in his mind.
The occasional shot of cascading blood or blown-apart faces aside, this isn’t Extreme Cinema. It has more of a kinship with “Shotgun Stories,” Jeff Nichols’ film on a bloody family feud that brings Hatfield and McCoys-esque tussling into the supposedly tamed present day. Director Jeremy Saulnier tells his tale in calm, confident frames that don’t always quake with tension. Sometimes they’re humdrum and menial, following Dwight on fumbling, comic digressions. One bit finds him inexplicably guzzling water, which we subsequently learn is so he can whizz on the grave of the man he killed.
That “Blue Ruin” has a sense of humor is key; it even casts Eve Plumb in a shockingly terrifying role. (This kind of stunt casting is a cliche, but Jan Brady is a good get.) At its heart is its star, who keeps changing his physical appearance, shaving his Grizzly Adams beard and adopting a buttoned-down look. This gibes with his combustible personality. He never speaks above a nasal mutter, and his token look is a nervous, bug-eyed stare. He seems harmless, cuddly even, except when he’s provoked, at which point he oozes danger. The rest of the film mirrors him: It’s cool and confident, but can go nightmarish or darkly comic at the flip of a switch.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge