Blue Ruin begins the way it eventually ends – with quiet, panning shots around an empty house. At least you think it’s empty. Then the camera falls on the shoulder of a man in mid-bath, the steam still rising, the water still running. He thinks he hears a sound so he shuts off the water to listen. No one. It was nothing. He turns the faucet back on and leans back, then bolts upright as he hears another sound, his ears perking up. When he hears the front door start to twist open he jumps up and we see him kick out a screen window and jump out, still soaking wet and with nothing but a towel and a handful of wet clothing. He darts across the backyard as a young family enters through the front door, home from getting ice cream on a summer night. This man precedes to do a series of other questionable things, including digging through garbage for his dinner and heading back to sleep in his car, not before using a piece of garbage as a bookmark for his novel.
From what we can see, the main character, Dwight (Macon Blair) is a homeless loner, who combs the beach for trash and aluminum cans. He has little to no human contact. He observes others with a glassy-eyed expression. In the next scene, he’s being woken by a police officer as he sleeps. It’s late morning in his rusty, bullet-ridden 90’s Pontiac. The officer addresses him by name and asks him to come down to the station where she breaks some apparently big news to him – the man convicted of a horrible crime that wreaked havoc on his family is about to be released from prison in a matter of days.
As the audience learns more about Dwight, it becomes apparent that he is a broken, haunted, shell of a human being. A prisoner of his own mind since the murders, he has retreated into a solitary existence. He exists far from a world that would allow such a thing to happen – at the beach, where his family formerly spent summers as he grew up; a fleeting memory for the now bearded, unkempt man in stale clothing. Dwight has abandoned family and friends, for, from what we understand, could be a matter of years. But now a single purpose propels him forward – the release of the person who did his family wrong.
Dwight is not an epic action hero or avenging vigilante; in fact, his efforts reveal the opposite – a clumsy, yet painstakingly determined man digging a deeper and bloodier hole by the minute. Blair is the heart and soul of the film. He goes above and beyond in the lengthy dialogue-free scenes, just as he does in conversation with those he loves and those he abhors. The camera gets lost in the sadness pouring from his glossy, animated eyes on several occasions. The spiral of anger, confusion and aching loneliness pulls viewers headfirst into a world few would enter willingly. Blue Ruin is somewhere between a thriller and a horror movie – it walks the fine line between a Hitchcock film and a Tarantino movie. It shocks you and forces your hands over your mouth in preparation for the next brutal scene. It peels the blinds back to reveal things you would never, ever want to see in real life. Scenes that are very difficult to watch, yet in the next, you may have some comedic relief. Of course, these moments are fairly dark in nature.
Alas, there is a lack of detail that I will only allude to, a handful of moments that make this worth watching – and if I were to divulge them to you now, those 90 minutes would not affect you to the extent that they should. I will say this, however: The stark simplicity is what makes the film. A Hollywood version would over-complicate things with unnecessary subplots, excessive juxtaposition, and scene after scene spent highlighting just how bad the villain really is. The soundtrack would over-compensate and distract you. The scenes, the music, the characters – all would be spoon-fed to the audience. And there would be a disappointing lack of authenticity. Yet, in this film, we only hear one song. One haunting, eerily appropriate song – “No Regrets”, by Little Willie John. As Dwight drives away from a brutal scene, his shirt soaked in blood, you hear the 50’s era singer proclaiming the lyrics joyfully, the contrast between the song and the scene makes your stomach drop, your knees weak, and you prepare for it to haunt your dreams. “i’ve no regrets, no regrets, no regrets, i’m living the life of a king. i’ve been a lot of places, oh, and i’ve seen a lot of things.”