One could say that director Jeremy Saulnier has jumped up a huge step from his feature debut, Murder Party, but one could also say that saying so would be comparing werewolves to vampires— they’re two completely different species. Where Murder Party is a darkly gleeful send up to the art world and its pretentious, sycophantic society, Blue Ruin is a stoic, patient and plodding tale of revenge.
It begins with a sane but sad homeless man (Macon Blair) living out of his beat-up blue Oldsmobile near the sea. A knock on the window by a kind policewoman bears terrible news—the killer of his parents is getting out of jail. What follows is this man’s journey to protect his distant sister and to kill the killer. That’s a simple enough outline, but the care with which Saulnier crafts the story is a lesson that most of today’s filmmakers and studio executives need to learn. Blue Ruin is a powerful, slow burning tale of blunt emotional wreckage and stark truth.
The strength of the film belies its low budget; Saulnier maxed out the credit card, his wife purged her retirement fund, and a last-minute Kickstarter campaign provided the cherry on top. Talk about drive and desperation. But it’s fitting that this film is so removed from Hollywood, whom may have put Sylvester Stallone or Vin Diesel in a similar story. They probably would have added many tarted-up, scantily dressed starlets with the emotional intelligence to match whatever beefy star they cast; and they all would have been dumb as a gun.
Which leads to the morality and justice element of the story. When does the killing stop? Does it take a stronger person to strike back, or wave the peace flag? It’s hard to say more about the film without giving away key elements of the plot. Let’s just say that the comparisons to the Coen Brothers are spot on. If you’re looking for a film that trusts its audience and doesn’t rely on needless exposition, gratuitous nudity—or violence, for that matter—Blue Ruin is the Easter egg of independent film this year.