Blue Ruin (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27May/142

Blue Ruin (2014)

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A broken man living off scraps receives news that sends him on a brutal quest of revenge in Blue Ruin.  This film is Jeremy Saulnier's follow-up to the 2007 's skillful and genre-blending horror film Murder Party, also starring Macon Blair.  It's currently available in select theaters and video on demand.

Pure reasonAmerican films have a tenuous relationship with the color blue.  It distorts the surroundings, and instead of bringing happiness, fills the screen with dread.  Blue Velvet, with its barely concealed underbelly of diseased hearts of the suburb, was the forefather of this most recent string of dark suburban tales.  That strain of blue that stains someone with an unspeakable desire continued on through the decades and into the terrifyingly quiet world of Blue Ruin, where even the façade of pleasant domesticity is gone, leaving in its wake broken people who can't pretend to the middle class world anymore.

Dwight (Macon Blair) is a nonentity in this newly isolated suburban terrain.  He at first seems comfortable in his surroundings, enjoying a bath in a fine porcelain tub, located in a spacious bathroom of a quaint home in a quiet neighborhood.  But he's the foreign body who can't be defined by these surroundings because, soon after we've intruded on his bath, he's off running.  This is not his home and, after grabbing his clothes from the line, we find this is one of many locations where he is just a phantom - picking off the scraps that others leave behind, and moving on to wherever he can next be ignored.  Blair, in a masterclass of restrained performing, goes so far as to make sure his presence can't even be detected by sound.  We're so used to hearing the spaces between dialogue filmed with hums, gasps, or even breathing.  Whatever happened to Dwight, Blair wants us to know that it's caused him to recede so far into himself that he may never come out.

So when a friendly cop comes to tell Dwight that "He" has been released from prison the violence that enters his eyes is a shock.  In a breathtaking array of focus and silence Dwight grabs some maps to Virginia, drives into the increasing layers of darkness in mist in his rusty blue sedan, stalks an overbearing man, and murders him in a bathroom - and that's where the movie really starts.  Instead of the examination of the forgotten homeless we might have expected, Jeremy Saulnier's film has more precise plans, and instead charts how a man who could have lived as a parasite for the rest of his days is driven to become a predator.

Dwight is left with decaying reminders of the suburban life he used to have.

Dwight is left with decaying reminders of the suburban life he used to have.

The question, why, lingers throughout the film and Saulnier answers it in brief dialogue and barred entryways.  Whatever happened in the past, it caused Dwight to disturb the truce between sinful behavior and appealing domesticity, and there is no way that he will ever be able to go back.  Saulnier signals this early on through Dwight's dumpster feeding ground behind the circus he stalks for food.  That durable image of suburban comfort, the white picket fence, is ever so slightly taller than he is, blocking him from the happiness on the other side.  But the suggestion that he might rejoin that life comes with it a new wardrobe, a crisp blue button-down shirt and blue jeans, both an ill fit.  His sister's life, with both her vehicle and children's wardrobes sharing an even deeper shade of blue, are beyond him.

All of these cues continue to be presented in near total silence with nothing but Blair wounded eyes and guarded body telling us that he is afraid.  This partnership with the quiet is the source of the film's terrifyingly tense first act.  I felt disappointed when Dwight finally had to speak, preferring instead necessity of interpreting each of his actions.  But it raises new dimensions to the craft of Saulnier's script, explaining perfectly Dwight's controlled tension with his first words, "Wade hurt my parents."

Saulnier's style, with its deep colors and sharply defined objects, along with his dialogue, which ignores exposition and gets to the violent emotions in as little time as possible, is a fresh take on noir.  In broad form it recalls the same kind of restrained style that ran through some of the French classics of the '60s, but Saulnier is not stripping his film down for the sake of that style and is instead tapping into the raw nerves of the descending American middle class.  As opposed to the '50s, where Americans were dragged into suburban molds whether you wished it or not, this new millennium find people struggling to hold what little bits of a stable life they have.

Blair's mostly silence performance brings the audience through the symbolically loaded texture of Saulnier's film by forcing us to interpret his actions rather than process explanations.

Blair's mostly silent performance brings the audience through the symbolically loaded texture of Saulnier's film by forcing us to interpret his actions rather than process spoken explanations.

In this regard, is there little doubt why Blair plays Dwight like a man who has been through war?  He's come of age in a generation that saw attacks from foreign and domestic terrorists who sought to strip the symbolic basis of his way of life away.  If John Rambo is the answer to the way Vietnam veterans came back to a world that hated them, Dwight is the answer to what happens when the safety net removed for an entire way of life and everyone is left to fend for themselves.

There's little else out like Blue Ruin, and doesn't pretend that any of the images of solid family life or heroes hold any sway in a world where anyone can take the domestic illusion away for transgressions of any stripe.  Dwight and his war with the family that killed his have no mediating presence, no law that they can utilize which might give nuance to their retributions.  Saulnier's outright refusal to place any other system of ethics on Dwight's war is terrifying as a viewer, as it forces us to mediate Dwight's actions within our personal moral system.

Removing the larger questions of Blue Ruin still leaves us with a director who has mastered the steady drip of tension and a lead performer who hollows himself out save for his one last goal.  When the last blood runs the question is no longer why, but what is left for us?  Saulnier leaves us with the ruin and no answer about how we can live beyond that collapse in one of the most tense and confident films of 2014.

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Blue Ruin TailBlue Ruin (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Macon Blair.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review Andrew. Doesn’t change the game of revenge-thrillers, but still does a great job at playing it simple, yet effective as well.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan! It is one in a recent wave of revenge thrillers that has its roots in a decaying middle class, but its stripped-down style makes it the top of the crop


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