Blue Ruin considers revenge – the act of planning, executing, and surviving it – a deadly serious thing. In the second feature from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party), revenge is some “dig two graves” stuff, and even if you get away with it, you can’t escape it. It’s a tense, sometimes brutal, and occasionally beautiful antidote to the idea that somehow getting the other guy makes things even.

When we first Dwight (Macon Blair), he’s living out of his car, possibly disturbed (in some vague way), surviving by foraging and stealing whatever he can. Now watch Dwight when he learns that the man responsible for a terrible act of violence against his family has been released from prison. It’s as though something has awakened in him, but it never turns the character into some kind of wrath of God badass.

Blue Ruin hinges on a wounded performance by star Macon Blair. This is the exact opposite of a Walking Tall-style revenge story, casting Dwight instead as a kind of beta male doing what he thinks he has to do (with disastrous consequences). Blair plays the character as someone who’s pushed himself so far outside of the world because of one tragedy, that maybe he thinks this one act will put his life back together. And there’s a perfect moment early in the film where Dwight talks to his sister (Amy Hargreaves) about what he’s done that Blair plays expertly. All of his doubt and guilt seem to crowd up on him at once in this relatively small scene where it’s clear to the character that he hasn’t made things better, he’s only made them worse.

If I’m being spare with the details, it’s because the way Blue Ruin unfolds is part of its harrowing artistry. Saulnier has created an anti-revenge story, where things go wrong in these really interesting ways for our hero. The things Dwight does puts him on the wrong side of the shit-kicking Cleland clan, who are clearly more practiced at the get-back game. I almost feel like there’s a whole movie about these folks, and I wouldn’t mind exploring their weird, violent little corner of the backwoods a bit more.

“Ruin” sums up what happens in Saulnier’s film perfectly: what he does is supposed to be for his family, but really, all he does is paint a target on his remaining kin. For the Clelands, their revenge pits them against a weak man who has unexpected resolve when it comes to surviving, and each just keeps hacking away at each other until it goes the kind of way wrath of god vengeance goes.

Blue Ruin will be in theaters, iTunes, and on demand April 25th.

'Blue Ruin': The High Price of Revenge
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