Working best as little more than a curiosity and a testament to the power of crowd funding, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin — a movie made thanks to Kickstarter donations — is firmly wedged in the style of low-budget American indie filmmaking. In a few ways, at least for the bulk of the film, Blue Ruin acts like an anti-film. Besides heavy, borderline pretentious use of the color blue, Saulnier (Murder Party) has no real, discernible visual style as a filmmaker, with more of an eye toward atmosphere and tension (that doesn’t always work) and a pacing that’s on the languid side (while never quite being boring). On top of this, the film’s main concerns involve the Hollywood idea of the revenge movie, but it ignores the moral costs and instead examines just how damn difficult murder is for the average person. After all its attempts at placing itself far afield from the genre it inhabits, Blue Ruin simply reverts to a climatic fit of Hollywoodized murder (with a little bit of mayhem), and Saulnier undercuts everything he wants to say.
When Blue Ruin’s sense of ironic humor is locked in, it’s at its best and nearly justifies its critical reputation. But so much of the humor and playfulness is buried underneath the film’s straight-faced indieness, it’s hard to tell what’s supposed to be fun and what’s supposed to be taken seriously. For example, I’m not sure if our pseudo-hero Dwight (Macon Blair, Murder Party) being hunted down by a redneck with a crossbow (of all things) is supposed to be funny, but it’s certainly ridiculous enough to be. On the other side, I’m pretty sure that Dwight getting shot in the leg with an arrow and being forced to drive around with it sticking out of his leg is Saulnier’s idea of gallows humor, but the tone of the film is so quiet and funky that it’s nigh impossible to tell what Blue Ruin is aiming for.
The film starts off seriously enough, as we meet Dwight, a bearded, dirty, homeless man who lives by the beach in a blue, rundown, bullet-riddled Pontiac Bonneville. After being informed that the man (Brent Werzner), who apparently murdered his parents, is being released from prison, Dwight sets out on the path of vengeance. That’s the setup, though it doesn’t take long for Dwight — after some miscues, like a botched attempt at stealing a gun — to murder his parents’ killer in a truly suspenseful scene. This creates new problems: Dwight is hunted down by his victim’s family, and his actions endanger his estranged sister (Amy Hargreaves, Shame). Dwight stays at the epicenter of it all, as his — and the story of his parents’ death — is slowly revealed. We quickly learn that he’s simply not cut out for this kind of carnage and stress.
In theory, Blue Ruin is the story of a man pushed to his limits, though the problem with this is that the man in question is mostly an enigma. Saulnier wishes to unravel his story in such a subtle manner (something that he honestly has a talent for) that the film’s too subdued. Its impossible to care for Dwight. He barely has a personality, while his interests and the bare essence of his humanity are nonexistent. Combine this with the film’s lackluster ending and you have an interesting movie but maybe not a good one. Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas.