Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has clearly avoided the dreaded “sophomore jinx” in his second feature film, Blue Ruin. In fact, it shows a lot of progress in his skills behind the lens since his first film, 2007’s Murder Party, which was a better than average debut effort. As winner of the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics award) prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, it is a film worthy of notice.
“Dwight Evans” (Macon Blair) is a man living in a blue wreck of a car on a dune somewhere along the Atlantic. He sneaks into houses to bathe, manages to feed himself and generally seems to be stuck in an aimless existence at the film’s outset. He becomes immediately freed from that existence when he learns that the man who murdered his parents is about to be released from prison. Now he is a man on a mission.
The ancient blue car is trashed, but once Dwight puts his mind to it, it runs and he is off to confront the man who killed his parents and ruined his life. That man, “Will Cleland” (David W. Thompson) is picked up at the prison and take him off to celebrate his “early release from the service of the state.” He and the rest of the ‘trailer-trash’ that comprise his family go to a dive bar and Dwight follows. Once he manages to get Will alone, Dwight kills him in a particularly brutal fashion. Problem is, it is easy to know who did the deed and the rest of the Clelands won’t settle for just killing Dwight in return. They will go after his estranged sister and her child. That’s just not acceptable for Dwight. He will do anything humanly possible to protect them, even if it means setting out to kill the entire Cleland clan. No need to involve the cops. He knows the Clelands will seek vengeance, not justice.
The most amazing aspect of Blue Ruin is that it was made with such a low budget. It was funded by a campaign on Kickstarter. On basis of quality of film versus expense it is one of the better films to come along in some time. Blair is in almost every sequence and does well portraying a complex character. Amy Hargreaves, playing Dwight’s sister “Sam” is the one character in the film’s cast who garners some sympathy and concern from the audience. She’s good in the role. But aside from the brilliance of Blair, it is Devin Ratray (Nebraska) who deserves the most plaudits. As Dwight’s best friend from childhood, “Ben Gaffney” he provides assistance to Dwight and most of the few, but perfectly placed moments of laughter in an otherwise dark revenge thriller. As “Kris Cleland,” Eve Plumb just isn’t given much to do, but for fans of “The Brady Bunch” it’s nice to see her on the big screen.
I look forward to more films from this clearly talented filmmaker. Even if I have to kick in to his next Kickstarter campaign.