(Jeremy Saulnier, 2013)
Saulnier's storytelling is the thing that elevates Blue Ruin.
A modest, tightly-focused little revenge thriller, it follows Dwight (Macon Blair, brilliant) from a few days before he learns that the man who murdered his parents twenty years before has been released from prison. Dwight is a drop-out. Bearded and long-haired, we first encounter him having a bath only to jump out the window when the owners of the house return. He lives in a battered old pontiac near the sea, scavenges food from bins, and reads by torchlight. The first 15 minutes or so where we follow Dwight through his days are a fine example of pure cinema - there is no dialogue until Dwight is informed by a kindly Police Officer of what has happened. Even then Saulnier lets the sound drop out as Dwight enters an altered state of sorts, from which he will never recover. He travels to his home state of Virginia, bent on revenge, and after that the film is about revenge, family, cycles, and violence. Saulnier shows the messy awfulness of it in visceral, ultra-close up detail. Once the killing begins, Dwight realises what he must do to end this blood-feud, bringing the film to a horrible climax.
The story is never terribly original, and the plotting is a little shaky at times, but Saulnier's deliberate pacing and the obtuse way he approaches certain scenes means that much of it is exceptionally gripping.
Focusing on Dwight's panicked, sweaty face in the foreground while we can see armed men moving, hunting for him, out-of-focus behind. Lingering on the procedural aspects of his planning to emphasise just how ordinary and out of his depth he is as he tries to procure a gun or to remove a crossbow bolt from his leg. Dropping us straight into the lives of a stressed single mother with little girls for a few minutes unexplained before Dwight's arrival reveals that she is his sister.
Blair has massive, expressive eyes, and the fact that so much of the film forces him to tell us how he is feeling purely through his facial expressions is one of its strengths.
It may be minor, but what Blue Ruin does, it does very well, serving notice that Saulnier may be a director to keep and eye on.