Early in Blue Ruin, drifter/protagonist Dwight tells his sister, “I’m not used to talking this much,” and she replies wearily: “That’s what people do.” It’s a fitting enough characterization for the opening act of this taut thriller. Dwight’s living a shell of a life, sleeping in his car and breaking into houses to find baths and meals. When he gets news that the man convicted of killing his parents is due to be released from prison, Dwight sets out for revenge almost by reflex, which turns out to be an ugly wake-up call.
But this isn’t a story of a single-minded loner prepared to deliver comeuppance. Much of Blue Ruin’s pervasive suspense comes from the practical considerations and quiet horrors of vengeance. Director Jeremy Saulnier is well-versed in the visuals of the genre; he’s a believer in the power of a slow pan, and even quiet shots of the titular car sliding along a misty road feel like impending doom long before Dwight ever hoists his first gun.
And oh, are there a lot of guns. Blue Ruin isn’t so much preoccupied as pointedly occupied with them. They mark each turn in the wider spiral of revenge, and plot points hinge largely on the process—and ease—of coming by them, their nearly-comical numbers, and the damage they do (Dwight’s staggered by the devastation wrought by a single bullet). They’re also the source of much of the film’s slender streak of dark comedy. One particularly plain-speaking standoff nails the truth of it: The one with the gun decides what the truth is.
A story of the impossible mess revenge often becomes, equally interested in cycles of violence and the long, slow periods of dread that wear on people in the in-between, Blue Ruin is a grim, absorbing journey.