Jeremy Saulnier’s film Green Room (2015) impressed many with its unique twist on the horror genre. Macon Blair, the star of Saulnier’s previous film Blue Ruin,had a directorial debut with the 2017 drama I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. The combination of Blair’s vast creative abilities and Saulnier’s directingled me to believe this would be a great film, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Dwight (Blair) is a rough-sleeper living in a rusty blue Pontiac on the outskirts of town; he breaks into people’s houses just to bathe, and his meals are scavenged from the thrown-out leftovers of pier-side amusement parks. Despite these questionable actions, Dwight is a soft and quiet man, barely speaking a word and even somewhat understood and accepted by the local police. They’re the ones who are kind in breaking the news that his parent’s murderer is being released from prison.
His chosen path of revenge isn’t expected nor tropey in comparison to other revenge films. It reminded me of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) in its understated capacity to express emotion, contrasted with heavy and explicit brutality. Blue Ruin’s violence, though, isn’t as high volume – yet just as bloody when it happens – instead focusing on the main character’s trauma and its consequences. He is a normal middle-aged man, with no experience in shooting a gun or hurting people, but the despair he feels from his loss precipitates a revenge that begins to unearth a question of family politics.
This film is a slow burn but high impact, with great acting from Blair as he transforms from melancholy to mediation. Blue tones encompass the film as a perfect indication of Dwight’s character, creating a soft and stunning natural landscape for the bloody violence and fear to feed upon. The tension build up during certain scenes was more impactful than the incoming gunshots or knife wounds. Whilst other revenge films featuring male leads often focus on the masculinity of the character, the small sadness of Dwight was a welcome change to the genre. It allowed the audience to understand the emotional ups and downs rather than a general sense of ‘I must protect my family as I am the head of this household’. When Dwight does track down his sister (Amy Hargreaves), the urgency to protect her comes from his own panic as a human scared of loss. Blair is a great fit for the role; a gentle touch for an often stagnant character type.
Whilst there were dips in focus as the film went from one scene to another, it always picked the flow back up immediately so you weren’t lost for too long. The few revelations we experience as viewers don’t punch you with their suddenness and scale, but instead evolve as a small event that allow the audience to further question the notion of family. The lack of melodrama doesn’t detract from the impact, just as the abundance of dialogue-less interactions don’t force a monotony that takes away from the haunting scenes of poignant character development.
Blue Ruin feels authentic, less commercial, and unique in its depiction of trauma and revenge. It’s refreshing to the genre but not totally separated to the point it’s unrecognisable from its aim. You can rarely go wrong with a fictional character that kills in the name of justice when the family is at stake (clearly most superhero films are based on this premise) – Saulnier’s film, though, brings that sensationalism down to a raw level that makes a stronger emotional connection between audience and character.