Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 2014 film “Blue Ruin.”
In recent years, the thriller movie genre has made little headway. Once a prolific genre that churned out gripping films in the 1990s, the 2000s saw the genre dissolve into a string of lackluster, generic movies that fall victim to the same cliched tropes. But last year, writer and director Jeremy Saulnier managed to reinvent the thriller genre singlehandedly with his film “Blue Ruin.”
If you read any of those “Best Movies of 2014” lists, you may have come across this film’s title before. Modern in every sense of the word, “Blue Ruin” was one of the first full-length feature films ever to be financed via crowdfunding. The film screened at Cannes in May of 2013 before having a limited theatrical release almost a year later. But despite being an indie darling on the festival circuit, the film unfortunately flew under the radar for most mainstream moviegoers. “Blue Ruin” follows the timorous Dwight Evans (played by Macon Blair) as he avenges his parents’ deaths and contends with the repercussions of his actions. When Dwight learns that Wade Cleland, the man who murdered his parents, has been released from prison, he rashly decides to live out his revenge fantasies and murder his parents’ killer in cold blood. But reality soon crushes such fantasies when his sloppy revenge spawns a bloodthirsty war between him and the entire Cleland clan. The film blends humor with horror as Dwight clumsily fights his way to the movie’s climactic confrontation.
Blair singlehandedly carries the plot forward as the film’s central everyman. He comports his character with a fragile faintheartedness that renders his character both believable and relatable. As Dwight fumbles his way through the gripping plot and faces off with vicious characters, the audience feels deeply for him and can’t help but hope that he makes it out alive.
The film takes an original spin on the thriller genre through its stylistic originality. Director Jeremy Saulnier exchanges the gritty, brooding tone of most generic thrillers for a rawer, more vibrant one, one more akin to a Vimeo short film than to your standard suspense tale. The movie’s soft color palette and gorgeous cinematography also add a layer of lightheartedness to an otherwise tragic storyline.
But for a movie with such stylistic originality, its screenplay employs minimal dialogue. True to Dwight’s timid nature, he speaks in sparse, monosyllabic sentences (it takes him 21 long, eventful minutes to engage in his first conversation). But the lack of verbal communication never gets in the way of the story. The film’s limited dialogue keeps the audience in a state of continual anticipation; we’re never certain what Dwight is thinking or what his next move will be, but we cling to every single moment and fixate on every minute action. The film’s dialogue is cinematic minimalism at its finest.
The only glaring issue the film has is its own insecurities. Despite its stylistic originality, the film tries too hard to incorporate cliched movie tropes into its story. It’s as if Saulnier is constantly trying to remind his audience that his movie is, in fact, a thriller. The result is a story that progressively struggles to maintain its own tone and by the closing credits, viewers may feel like they just watched two totally different movies (it doesn’t help that Dwayne chops off his coursing hair and unkempt beard halfway through the film, rendering the main character almost unrecognizable). But the lack of consistency is a forgivable sin for a movie that attempted the overly ambitious task of combining arthouse aesthetics with horror movie thrill.
“Blue Ruin” is a clever reimagining of the classic thriller movie that will hopefully bring a much needed creative flare to an otherwise banal genre. It’s a horror flick that can entertain veteran horror fans and eager young cinephiles alike.