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'Blue Ruin' Turns A Shoestring Budget Into Queasy Gore

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These days low-budget, truly independent film is largely confined to the realm of character-driven mumblecore dramas or cut-rate horror films. The hyperviolent revenge drama Blue Ruin, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, seems to have a foot in both of these worlds, splattering a family feud with gruesome bouts of gunplay and gore. And while the definition of "independent" film seems to be loosening every year in order to give filmmakers and their work more credit than they deserve, there is no doubt Blue Ruin fits the bill. Having a Kickstarter campaign setting the production in motion, the total costs came in just under a half-million dollars. Saulnier is no stranger to the world of shoestring budgets, best known for his work as a cinematographer for Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill, I Used To Be Darker) and utilizing natural light. The film opens with a slice of the life of Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), a man who gets by on the Delaware shore as a scavenger and living out of a Pontiac Bonneville long overdue for the scrap yard; emblematic of the film's own production.

Dwight manages to make the car run through grit and craftiness, spurred by the early release of the man who killed his parents. He's bent on vengeance, but gets in way over his head when the hillbilly clan from which his target hails decides to make it a family affair. Saulnier approach to the material is dry and matter-of-fact. The violence lacks the glamorization seen in films of larger budgets and its consequences are unsettling. Watching Dwight remove an arrow (an arrow!) from his thigh using a hacksaw, among other tools, is one of the queasiest scenes of recent memory. In between these spurts of blood, Saulnier masterfully withholds just enough from the audience to permeate Blue Ruin with a menacing sense of dread. While it's clear that Saulnier has an impeccable sense of craft, the tale he spins of family blood feuds feels old hat. Macon Blair turns an enigmatic portrayal of a gentle soul surprisingly capable of such extreme acts of medieval justice, but the rest of the cast comes off as mere props in Saulnier and Blair's reindeer games of shoot 'em up. With not much for a viewer chew on outside of such unpleasant gore to watch, it's tough to think that Blue Ruin will provide much for anyone aside from those attuned to grindhouse-style violence.

Blue Ruin is now playing at the Sundance Sunset Cinema (West Hollywood), and Laemmle's Playhouse 7 (Pasadena) and Monica 4-Plex (Santa Monica).