Spur-of-the-moment actions speak louder than carefully chosen words in Jeremy Saulnier’s impeccably crafted second feature.
Indeed, when the bedraggled hero of Blue Ruin is finally put on the spot and forced to justify his actions, he apologises for his poor articulation and squirms, marinading in the sweat of his mounting discomfort.
From its striking opening shot of a man languishing in a bath, Saulnier’s revenge thriller establishes a deceptively slow and steady pace that belies the nerve-shredding tension beneath the surface.
Once the first drop of blood is spilt – and it’s a stomach-churning spray of glossy claret – we’re completely in the writer-director’s vice-like grip. The lean 90-minute running time is perfectly judged – any longer and our nails would be gnawed down to the cuticle.
Macon Blair gives a riveting central performance as homeless drifter Dwight, who lives in a rusted blue Pontiac parked down by the beach.
One unremarkable morning, Dwight is shepherded into the local police station where he’s given some dire news. It transpires that Will Cleland (David W Thompson), the man who is serving time for murdering Dwight’s parents, is poised to be released from jail.
Eddy’s revelation shakes Dwight out of his self-pitying fug. He tidies his appearance and embarks on a quest to dole out what he perceives as justice to Will and his hillbilly brethren, which imperils Dwight’s estranged sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her two children.
Anchored by a tour-de-force central performance by Blair, whose mournful stare instantly curries our sympathy, Blue Ruin breathes new life into a well-worn genre.
Flashes of macabre humour, reminiscent of the early Coen brothers, allow us to pause for sharp intakes of breath between meticulously staged set pieces.
Saulnier makes every cent of his one million dollar budget count including some horribly convincing make-up effects as Dwight incurs life-threatening wounds that could derail his twisted crusade.
Our wincing is nothing compared to his screams of on-screen anguish.