Crafty Minimalism and Tense Thrills

While on a visit to West Michigan yesterday I checked out the film listings in the area. I noticed that the Celebration Cinemas in Woodland offered a wide range of what was once known as “second run” films (not sure if they still are) and was inclined to take in an encore viewing of Her, my favorite film from 2013. But once I arrived at the cinema, I saw that Blue Ruin, an indie thriller I had heard some buzz about, was also showing, and made a last – minute change of mind to take in that film instead, which proved to be a good choice.

The film offers a tense yet understated look at the “revenge thriller”, which one article about the film pointed out used to be much more common in Hollywood films (think late 90’s/early 00’s films often starring Ashley Judd) but is now less common. In this case, the minimalism is apparent right from the start when the first 20 minutes or so have nearly no dialogue, but are carried along by a crackerjack music score, character activity, and intriguing, immediate curiosity over the motivations and history of the main character, Dwight, played by Macon Blair.

Those early scenes depict Dwight living in homeless squalor in coastal “Delaware” (but shot, I believe, in Virginia Beach), with a depressed despondency. He gets word of a new development related to some tragic family history and is set off on a path of vengeance, which intersects with his sister, living a domestic life in the DC suburbs, an old friend, and members of the extended family related to those who committed the inciting act.

Yet through it all Dwight never takes on the air of the obsessed vigilante, instead staying more on the opposite end of fear and uncertainty. He can’t shoot a gun very well, and he doesn’t seem comfortably proceeding with a life geared towards violence. He might be one of the most “normal” protagonists I have ever seen in such a film, and although the movie eventually leads itself to a somewhat familiar and inevitable climax, it maintains the minimalism and character uncertainty to make it seem refreshing and unusual to the viewer. I hope the film goes on to become a cult classic and leads to greater things for those involved.