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“BLUE RUIN” (TIFF Movie Review)

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It’s been a long six years since BLUE RUIN director Jeremy Saulnier graced the pages of FANGORIA (virtual or otherwise); back in 2007 his riotous horror comedy MURDER PARTY was a hit among the FANGO enclave, starring Macon Blair as a nerdy loner whose invitation to a Halloween “Murder Party” turns out to be more literal than expected. In the interim Saulnier’s made a name for himself as a cinematographer, most notably for the dreamy dramas of Matthew Porterfield (PUTTY HILL), and now he returns to the director’s seat, with frequent collaborator Macon Blair turning in a transfixing performance as BLUE RUIN’s damaged lead, Dwight.

Dwight is a soft-spoken, somewhat shell-shocked beach hobo who lives in his blue car on the west coast, just trying to keep his head down and limit interactions with the outside world. When he is given some disturbing news by a sympathetic cop, he is driven to action, setting off on a violent mission whose purpose is pieced together gradually over the first act of the film: the man imprisoned for murdering his parents has just been released. Dwight, haunted by this event from a past he’s tried to bury through complete emotional disengagement, vows to get revenge, and sets off on a road trip back to his childhood hometown to give the killer a different kind of homecoming.

Macon Blair is almost unrecognizable from his turn in MURDER PARTY; covered in the grime of daily neglect, his long hair and beard disguise the anxiety that lines his face. Early in the film he breaks into a house to bathe, providing an interesting contrast to fellow TIFF entry BORGMAN (reviewed HERE), which contains a similar scene of a homeless man invading a bourgeois bathroom. But while both characters ‘clean up good’, Dwight doesn’t become the confident ladykiller of his counterpart in BORGMAN – instead, the shedding of filth and that stench that keeps people from getting close only exposes him, highlighting his frailty. His road to revenge is going to be a rough one.

Dwight’s simple plan backfires when crimes past and present are revealed to be part of a longer-running family feud, pitting him against a brood of born country ruffians (THE BRADY BUNCH’s Eve Plumb among them) whose tolerance for violence far exceeds his own.

While the story moves at a quick clip despite its languid tone, and the complex central character is eminently watchable, the contrast set up by the comparatively feral rural family is problematic, and risks making them white trash caricatures that could be perceived as camp. Of course, FANGO readers are unlikely to be put off by this – after all, the ‘crazy hick family’ is a bit of a well-loved stock in trade for us. But it does slightly undermine the film as a serious study of reticent revenge that questions the reactionary politics inherent to many vigilante justice pictures.

Still, this contrast underlines the link between MURDER PARTY and BLUE RUIN; MURDER PARTY is overtly ironic comedy, while Saulnier’s collaborations with Matthew Porterfield are exploratory and emotional, dealing with people’s relationships with each other and with the environments that shape how they deal with conflict and loss. BLUE RUIN is an amalgam of these two sensibilities, making it a unique hybrid with a firm footing in the genre, especially with its devastating, blood-soaked last act.

Snatched up at Cannes and equally lauded at the Toronto International Film Festival where it screened last week, BLUE RUIN’s next stop is Fantastic Fest, where it makes its US premiere on September 22nd. Stay tuned for a spring release from RADiUS-TWC.

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About the author
Kier-La Janisse http://www.big-smash.com
Kier-La Janisse is a writer and film programmer based in Montreal, Canada. She is the Founding Director of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and a film programmer for Fantastic Fest, POP Montreal and SF Indie. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival in Vancouver and co-founded Montreal's Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Film Centre. She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012).
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