The low-budget revenge thriller Blue Ruin introduces us to Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), a homeless drifter who is currently living out of an old car. We first see him taking a bath in a home that isn’t his. When he hears voices approaching, he dashes out the bathroom window before even putting on his clothes. One morning, a police officer wakes Dwight up in his vehicle and takes him down to the station. Once there, she informs him that the man responsible for murdering his parents many years ago has been set free. Determined to make this man pay for what he did, Dwight gets his old car running, drives down to his hometown and follows the man to a local bar. Dwight hides out in the bathroom until the man enters, prompting Dwight to jump out and attack. After a brief scuffle, Dwight is able to kill the man by stabbing him in the head. But things aren’t over; once this man’s family finds out what happened, they’re determined to hunt Dwight and make him pay for what he did.

And so begins a tale of bloody vengeance and retribution. It’s a simple story and writer/director Jeremy Saulnier uses this to the film’s benefit. There are not a lot of twists and turns to be found, but this allows the viewers to really invest in the characters and the story at hand. Where the film ends up almost feels inevitable, but it’s still great to watch and see if it reaches that conclusion. Going along with the simple story is the slow pacing and understated direction. Anyone going into this expecting non-stop action will be sorely disappointed, but Saulnier manages to keep his film constantly engrossing. There are only a few scenes of action and intensity, so a lot of the film has Dwight setting up these sequences and recovering from them. One of the most interesting parts of the film shows Dwight recovering from an attack on his sister’s house. We watch him painstakingly attempt to fix his own injury and once he manages to cross that off his list, he still has to figure out what to do with an even bigger problem in the trunk. This sequence takes up a lot of the film’s second act. While most films would rush through this in order to get to the next major event, Saulnier manages to stretch this out and always keep it interesting.

But when the action does hit, it’s very intense. This is a low-budget film, so there’s not going to be any large setpieces or over-the-top battles. Instead, the intensity lies in the fact that we care about Dwight and don’t want to see him die at the hands of this ruthless family. In one particularly suspenseful sequence, Dwight attempts to hide from two intruders as they enter his sister’s house. It’s great to watch him squirm out of this awful situation and it’s even more terrifying when the two men discover him. Dwight doesn’t have any special skills that would help him in a situation like this. He’s not strong, he’s not fast and he can’t even shoot a gun. This everyman quality surrounding him allows the audience to find him relatable and it also makes the events that he’s forced to endure that much harder to watch.

Blue Ruin is slow, quiet and subtle. In his quest to find retribution for the murder of his mother and father, Dwight learns just how much the actions of one can affect the lives of others. The film looks good, especially when taking into account its slim budget, and the performances are all believable. As the film enters its third act, the pacing grinds to a halt and were forced to watch Dwight sit around and wait for a confrontation. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s refreshing to watch a thriller that’s so deliberately paced. Still, the film is so simple that it lacks any truly memorable moments and it fails to achieve a level of greatness. But its short runtime makes the film engrossing from beginning to end and it’s hard to deny the talent that seems to be operating behind the camera. Jeremy Saulnier managed to impress with this feature and I’m interested in following the next step in his career.

Blue Ruin receives 3/4

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