Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 take on the vigilante genre is both a masterclass in suspense and a brutal rebuttal to traditionally slick action films.
Anthony Morris

17 Jan 2017 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2019 - 2:56 PM

It’s got one of the all-time great first acts

Blue Ruin begins with a slow pan through an average suburban home that carries us to Dwight (Macon Blair), a bearded man currently taking a bath. There’s a noise; someone’s inside the house. Dwight jumps out the window – guess it wasn’t his place after all - and from there we follow him through a near-subsistence lifestyle that revolves around living in his crumbling car (the “Blue Ruin” of the title). Through this wordless sequence, the details of his life – on the fringes of society, but he’s surviving – come into place, but it’s not until a police officer lets him know that the man who killed his parents is out of jail that we start to understand why he lives like this. Now instead of scavenging from dumpsters and watching on as others enjoy an amusement park, he’s trying to get ahold of a weapon: what comes next may solve one of his problems, but it’s going to cause a whole lot more.


Director Jeremy Saulnier is a star on the rise

Blue Ruin is only writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s second film (the first was the low budget horror comedy Murder Party). But his experience as a cinematographer – he worked with indie director Matthew Porterfield on all three of his films, amongst others – really shines through in his often beautiful, always striking take on a string of dingy, decaying Virginian locations. While the first act is a classic of streamlined storytelling, he’s no slouch when it comes to ramping up the tension either, with every action scene feeling fresh and raw in a way that’s increasingly rare. All this marked him out as a director to watch; his follow-up film, the absurdly tense 2016 punk rock thriller Green Room, more than justified the attention.


Watch trailer:


Macon Blair is amazing in the lead

In another actor’s hands, Dwight would be a figure of fun. A lot of his character is built around comedic bits; fleeing from a house wearing nothing but a towel, disabling a car then realising he needs to use it as a getaway vehicle, undergoing a mid-movie transformation that turns him into a generically forgettable white collar stiff. Even when things turn violent, Dwight is hardly the ruthlessly efficient killing machine of most revenge thrillers. But while Blair never stifles the comedy in Dwight’s actions, he never lets us forget that Dwight is a broken man, an empty shell going through the motions because he’s too scared to think of any other way to live. His ruin underpins this film, and Blair is startlingly good at keeping it simmering away.


It’s full of (literal) knife-edge suspense

A lot of vigilante movies (and action movies in general) stylise their violence so heavily it means next to nothing. Not Blue Ruin; every time Dwight gets in a fight Saulnier finds a way to make sure we know exactly what’s at stake. This is a film where everything hurts, often in surprising ways; the traditional “I’ve been shot, time to dig the bullet out, splash some booze on the wound and move on” scene is given an eye-opening twist when Dwight gets a crossbow bolt in his leg and takes care of it in a way that’s not medically recommended.


It strips away the glamour from the vigilante movie

There’s often a perverse glamour to vigilante movies. Having suffered a grievous wrong, our hero stands up and says they’re not going to let this wrong stand; who doesn’t feel some kind of connection to that? The brutal, ruthless way they extract their revenge as they remorselessly exterminate those who ruined their life only adds to their appeal. But while Blue Ruin shares the bare bones of that story, Dwight never takes pleasure or strength in his actions; at one stage he’s re-united with his sister (who has moved on from their parents deaths), and when she calls him “weak” he doesn’t argue. The path he’s chosen isn’t one of righteous fury and blood-splattered glory. He’s a scared man killing people because he can’t see any other way to go on, and when he wants to stop he’s gone too far to turn around.

Follow the author here: @morrbeat


A Royal Affair

Sweden, 2012
Genre: Drama, History, Romance
Language: Danish, French, German
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Trine Dyrholm, Alicia Vikander
What's it about?
A young queen (Vikander), who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with his physician (Mikkelsen) – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever. 2013 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

A Royal Affair Review: A captivating tale of betrayal, political intrigue and doomed love

Blue Ruin

Sunday 17 November, 10:05PM on SBS World Movies (streaming at SBS On Demand after broadcast)

USA, 2013
Genre: Thriller
Language: English
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
What's it about?
When Dwight Evans (Blair), a loner who lives out in his his car near the beach, learns that the man who killed his parents has been released from prison, he sets out to return to his childhood home to take his revenge and kill him. However, his lack of skills in the field gets him deeper and deeper into trouble. From Jeremy Saulnier, director of 2015's Green Room.


I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore review: Brutal vengeance in suburbia with an awkward smile
The vigilante tale we need right now, pushing back on the decay of decency with pulp in the first truly great Netflix original film.
Why You Should Watch: Compliance
'Compliance' explores how easily free will and common sense can vanish in the face of authority. Here's why it makes for an unforgettable viewing.
SBS On Demand: Movies for your long, hot summer nights
Forget the rising temperatures, these movies at SBS On Demand are guaranteed to raise a sweat.
SBS On Demand: Park Chan-wook double bill
To mark the release of Park Chan-wook's erotic thriller 'The Handmaiden', we look back at two of the Korean director's earlier films streaming at SBS on Demand.