Day 4 of Fantastic Fest brought not one but two absolutely powerhouse genre films in Blue Ruin and Big Bad Wolves. First, Blue Ruin. The film focuses on a traditional revenge setup but expands on the idea in a wholly original and beautiful way. A distant cousin could be Rolling Thunder but Blue Ruin is a whole different kind of revenge-animal.
Macon Blair plays Dwight, a bearded, ramshackle mess of a man living out of a car and scavenging bottles and cans, food out of dumpsters and drifting through humanity as an almost unseen spectre. He is awoken one morning by a police officer and brought to the station to be given some news the officer (clearly sympathetic and motherly to him) feels it would be best told ‘in a safe environment.’ Dwight is told that the man responsible for killing his parents is to be released from prison – news which doesn’t seem to resonate at first (from outward appearances) but clearly, near-immediately sets off a revenge plan in his head cultivated for years of drifting from place to place.
Blair owns this character with a quiet grace that is simply remarkable. He is not some rambo and he is not a violent person (it seems) but he is someone so completely undone but this terrible event in his past that immediate, swift revenge is the only real option. One of the many things that makes Blue Ruin so damned good is that it deals directly with the limitations of an everyday person to carry out a plan like this. Especially a person who has so little to work with in the money department. Dwight must scrape together what he can, including using various houses as staging grounds and sources of clothing and shelter, to move on the man (and to a lesser degree) and his family to seek justice for his parents’ death.
The strike on the elder Cleland son comes early in a masterfully executed scene in a bar bathroom and once done starts a near-nonstop charge forward with the Cleland clan hot on his tail. The film is not breakneck paced but is, thankfully, measured in such a way that you do not ever lose interest and you sure as hell have no idea how it’ll all play out. Dwight is forced to confront choices he has made in the past (including basically disappearing on his family and friends) in order to keep all parties safe and himself alive. This balance between bitter revenge story and elegant drama is really something to see. It isn’t an easy task but director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party) handles it so well as to give you a real, emotional core to care about but more than a few reasons to dig your nails into the armrests at the same time.
The film is often quite bloody and shocking in its violence but at no point is any of it wasted for show – this all matters, it is all serious and it all has consequences. The real takeaway for me (beyond discovering a director and actor who are now ‘must sees’ for me) is that idea. You cannot change the past, you can’t undo a choice when it comes to killing and you cannot anticipate the ways in which your action might change you or why did it in the first place. Dwight must endure all of this and more in this near-perfect film. Make a point to find it when you can.