×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Blue Ruin’

A lean and suspenseful genre piece that follows a bloody trail of vengeance to its cruel, absurd and logical conclusion

With:
Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock, Sidne Anderson.

The backwoods-gothic terrain may be familiar, but the jolts are doled out with an expert hand in “Blue Ruin,” a lean and suspenseful genre piece that follows a bloody trail of vengeance to its cruel, absurd and logical conclusion. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier shows impressive progress from his funny-scary 2007 debut, “Murder Party,” with this tense, stripped-down tale of a Virginia drifter who finds himself in way over his head when he tries to exact payback for his parents’ deaths. Potent homevid rewards will likely follow modest theatrical returns for this buzzed-about Directors’ Fortnight entry.

Again serving as his own d.p. (his other lensing credits include Matthew Porterfield’s “I Used to Be Darker” and “Putty Hill”), Saulnier cleverly establishes a man-on-the-run theme in his opening shot, before the action proper has even started. Thereafter the camera practically stays glued to Dwight Evans (Macon Blair, who also exec produced), a quiet vagrant who gets by sifting through dumpsters and sleeping in his beat-up blue Pontiac. Yet his seemingly pointless existence is marked by curious flashes of daring and resourcefulness, if not exactly great intelligence, and he suddenly snaps into action and returns to his rural Virginia hometown upon learning that one Will Cleland has been released from prison.

Making it clear there’s a score to settle without immediately disclosing the gruesome details, the script lures the viewer into an unnerving sense of complicity as Dwight follows Will and his folks to a bar and, armed with a small knife, initiates the first of several brutal setpieces. The filmmaking is clean and efficient but the killing isn’t, and in the course of his clumsy, foolhardy getaway, Dwight ends up putting Will’s entire gun-toting redneck family on his tail. In a twist that streamlines the narrative considerably, the Clelands opt not to inform the police of the attack, choosing instead to keep things “in-house.”

While Dwight’s not-so-bright actions generate some darkly humorous beats (none grislier than when he tries, and fails, to clean a nasty arrow wound), Saulnier resists turning his protagonist into an object of outright ridicule, never compromising the audience’s intense identification with this reluctant renegade. In name and appearance, Dwight is the sort of pudgy, clean-shaven Everyman more suited to an office cubicle than a shootout, and even as the arguable aggressor in this scenario, he seems to act more out of fear and protectiveness than out of a real desire for retribution.

Blair’s engaging, soulful-eyed performance succeeds by locating the sweet spot between idiot and amateur, predator and prey. Repeatedly, Dwight plans ahead, takes calculated risks and still messes up, and much of the film’s tension derives from his very fallibility, as well as his increasing awareness that none of this can possibly end well. If the climax goes inevitably over-the-top, it’s nonetheless the sort of gruesome finish the story’s steady, merciless buildup demands.

Carefully exploiting the audience’s fear of what it can’t (or can only partially) see, Saulnier’s shallow-focus widescreen compositions amp up the suspense at key intervals, as do Julia Bloch’s crisp editing, Matt Snedecor and Dan Flosdorf’s meticulously layered sound design, and Brooke and Will Blair’s ominous synth score. While Dwight is often the camera’s sole focus, warm character notes are provided by Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister, who is at once grateful for and angered by his reckless actions, and Devin Ratray as an old high-school friend whom Dwight enlists to help, in one of his smarter decisions.

Cannes Film Review: 'Blue Ruin'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 18, 2013. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A FilmScience and Neighborhood Watch production in association with Paradise City, a Lab of Madness production. (International sales: Memento Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Anish Savjani, Richard Peete, Vincent Savino. Executive producers, Skei Saulnier, Macon Blair, Rosemary Edwards, Eileen McGrath, Karen Saulnier. Co-producers, Tyler Byrne, Alex Orr.

Crew: Directed, written by Jeremy Saulnier. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jeremy Saulnier; editor, Julia Bloch; music, Brooke Blair, Will Blair; production designer, Kaet McAnneny; art director, Brian Rzepka; set decorator, Cory Brown; costume designer, Brooke Bennett; sound, Macaulay Flynt; sound designers, Matt Snedecor, Dan Flosdorf; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Cory Melious; visual effects supervisor, Justin Ball; special makeup effects, Toby Sells Creature Makeup FX Shop; associate producer, Devoe Yates; assistant director, Alex Orr; casting, Harley Kaplan, Brandon Powers.

With: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock, Sidne Anderson.

More Film

  • Woolsey Fire Malibu

    Many Malibu Areas Still Off-Limits for Filming After Fire

    The California Film Commission has maintained its ban on filming in several Malibu areas hit by the massive Woolsey fire in Southern California last month. The commission announced Tuesday that due to continued clean-up and repair work along Pacific Coast Highway, permits for filming on the highway are not being issued at this time. PCH [...]

  • Against the Clock

    Film News Roundup: Andy Garcia's Spy Thriller 'Against the Clock' Bought by Gravitas

    In today’s film news roundup, Andy Garcia’s spy thriller is sold, “Battlestar Galactica” gets a screenwriter, and Brooklyn Decker gets an award. ACQUISITION More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' Gravitas Ventures has acquired North American rights to spy thriller “Against the Clock,” starring Andy Garcia, Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Justin [...]

  • 'Pacific Rim Uprising' film premiere

    John Boyega in Talks to Star in Legal Drama 'A Naked Singularity'

    “Star Wars” actor John Boyega is in talks to star in the legal drama “A Naked Singularity” with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions on board to produce. The movie is based on Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, which centers on a successful New York public defender whose life begins to unravel after he loses [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    'Aquaman' Outpacing 'Wonder Woman' in Fandango Pre-Sales

    Pre-sales of “Aquaman,” which opens on Thursday night, are outpacing “Wonder Woman” at the same point in the advance ticket sales cycle on online ticketer Fandango. “Wonder Woman” opened with $103 million domestically during the June 2 to June 4, 2017, weekend on its way to a $412 million North American total for Warner Bros. “Aquaman,” [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Box Office: 'Aquaman,' 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Box Office: 'Aquaman' Battles 'Mary Poppins Returns' in Crowded Holiday Weekend

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the most competitive time at the multiplexes. This weekend sees two very different heroes vying for the box office crown with “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns” both eyeing sizable debuts. “Mary Poppins Returns” is getting a head start by opening on Wednesday, though estimates show “Aquaman” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content