Blue Ruin (2013)

blue-ruin-posterFull Disclosure here: this is not a horror movie by most people’s standards. Not that this is in itself an impediment to putting up a review here: in the past, I’ve reviewed DJANGO UNCHAINED and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and neither could arguably be called horror, either.

What makes a horror film, anyway? An obvious and easy question, but not really, as any single definition would include movies you wouldn’t normally think of as horror, communal wisdom where we can go to look up obscure things and amend celebrity biographies to say they’re wankers, defines the horror film as “a film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears… Horror films often deal with the viewers’ nightmares, hidden fears, revulsions, and terror of the unknown.”

That flexibility is in part the strength of horror – maybe it doesn’t need to have an ironclad definition. Like art and pornography, we know it when we see it. Half of the items on the news on an average night classifies as horror for me, far eclipsing anything Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees can edify.

But I digress. BLUE RUIN is not a horror movie. What it is, is suspenseful. And incredibly well-made for a second effort from director/writer Jeremy Saulnier. And in an age when movies can get bloated and over-complicated, BLUE RUIN is an amazingly lean thriller.


Don’t worry, he’s only there to get that spider in the drain…

It opens on a suburban house, and a man (Macon Blair) in a bathtub, relaxing – before quickly grabbing his clothes and climbing out the window when he hears the actual residents of the house returning home. This is Dwight, and he usually spends his days rummaging through trash cans for food or bottles for cash, and his nights sleeping in the back of a car that’s as battered as his life. He’s the sort of man you would normally pretend to ignore when you saw him.

Then one morning the cops come along, pick him up and bring him into the police station. Not for the terrible crime of making people uncomfortable (don’t tell me that’s not an actual offence in some cities) but to break the news to him humanely: that local criminal boss Wade Cleland, the man who murdered Dwight’s parents (and presumably set him on his current path) is being released early from prison. Dwight says nothing in reply – but his expression, and his consequent actions of attempting to steal a gun, tell you what’s on his mind.



What I immediately appreciated about this movie from this point, among other things, was that unlike other revenge thrillers, Dwight is no Dolph Lundgren or Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s no hyper-muscular action hero type with a built-in history of Special Forces/CIA Black Ops set of Very Specific Skills to get the job of Getting Even done. He’s a meek, mild, sympathetic Everyman, who will get hurt as much as his targets will get hurt, which makes his story all the more believable and compelling.

"Officer, it's not what it looks like- okay, maybe it is..."

“Officer, it’s not what it looks like- okay, maybe it is…”

Nor does he possess a hidden cache of money or an arsenal of assault rifles; after his attempt to get a gun fails, he relies on a knife. But when he follows the released Wade to a local bar, sneaks into the back and hides in the men’s toilets, the knife will prove to be sufficient. Messily sufficient. Dwight manages to escape without being seen.

But things go wrong, when he leaves his car keys behind in the bloody mess, and has to steal the Clelands’ limousine to escape – only to find someone in the backseat, a kid too young to be in the bar. Fortunately he lets him out without any further complications. So far.

He returns to see his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) to tell her the news, and await the inevitable police pick-up. Which doesn’t come, because when nothing turns up on the news, Dwight realises that the Clelands have covered up Wade’s murder in order to find the killer themselves. And that they would soon track him down through his sister, placing her and her children in danger…

This is how you take the side of someone's face off...

This is how you take the side of someone’s face off…

BLUE RUIN will disappoint viewers expecting an action-packed rollercoaster ride ala CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER. Director Saulnier takes his time and allows the audience the chance to catch their breaths, and build up scenes of suspense with a minimum of firepower and bombast.

...And this is how you make a wound bleed copiously!

…And this is how you make a wound bleed copiously!

It will also disappoint those who need their story spoonfed to them. The script affords the audience some intelligence; no one will loudly exposit that the Clelands are vicious criminals, for instance, or that Dwight’s parents weren’t exactly innocent bystanders in all this, either. In fact, the reason for their murder isn’t brought up until the climax – because it doesn’t matter. Even Dwight can’t lie and claim that his need for vengeance is just or satisfying, and in fact puts his sister and her children in danger, and putting him on a path where he must commit more acts to ensure their protection.

"Here's the story/of a killer lady..."

“Here’s the story/of a killer lady…”

The cast works throughout, with Macon Blair leading the pack (and with a surprise bit of nostalgic casting of former Jan Brady, Eve Plumb, as the vicious matriarch of the Cleland clan. The cinematography is like something from a Hollywood Seventies movie, with beautiful, stark shots of deserted wilderness roads, and Steadicam sweeps through darkened houses. And the blood and gore is not skimped on, either, making me wince more than once with the realism of some shots.

Partly funded by Kickstarter, thus proving its worth if you need any proof, BLUE RUIN is available now on DVD and VOD. The trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Jeremy Saulnier (also writer and cinematographer)

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy: “Revenge is a dish best warmed in the microwave for 5 minutes, and then let sit for another minute before eating.”

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