Everything in the opening scenes of Jeremy Saulnier's nerve-racking revenge drama Blue Ruin is the color of a bruise, from the ocean to the bullet-hole-pocked Pontiac Bonneville that homeless near-mute Dwight (Macon Blair) calls home. Dwight has never overcome the pain of his parents' murder when he was a boy. On the day a local cop informs him that the murderer, Wade Cleland (Sandy Barnett), will be released from prison, Dwight reconnects the car's battery and drives south to kill him. Immediately, writer-director Saulnier pressures us to root for the premeditated murder of a man we've never met for a crime that isn't fully revealed until the second act. As the phenomenal Blair plays him, our hero/slayer is neither magnetic nor memorable; he's used to people pretending he's invisible, and pads, ghostlike, after his prey.
Saulnier shot Blue Ruin for $38,000, most of it from Kickstarter donations. His lead is his best friend from sixth grade; a centerpiece showdown takes place in his mother's house. There's so little dialogue, it's as though Saulnier feared he'd have to pay a dollar a word. But it looks like a million bucks and plays like gangbusters. It's lip-bitingly tense, not just because of what Dwight aims to do, but because we can't quite believe that this untrained wannabe can actually get it done.
The emergent villain is a gun nut (Devin Ratray) with little reason to keep anyone alive. When Dwight asks him for help, he's overjoyed to pack a goodie bag of ammunition. He gets a thrill from vicarious murder. So do we — we've bought our tickets, after all — but, boy, does Saulnier make us pay double.