Yes, it’s early, but I have a frontrunner for my favorite film of Fantastic Fest. Jeremy Saulnier’s "Blue Ruin" starts with subtle intrigue and builds to a crescendo of sadness and violence. We meet Dwight (Macon Blair) during an afternoon bath. But this is no relaxing steam. When the owners of the home arrive, Dwight darts from the window with the cat-like reflexes born of many crash visits. The man with the desolate eyes and long beard spends his time on the beach and in his broken-down car. When a police officer brings him into the station, we get an inkling of his backstory.
A murderer has been released from jail and the context clues make it clear that the criminal act involved people close to Dwight. Saulnier makes subtle work of establishing the exposition of his harrowing story. After learning of the criminal’s release, Dwight snaps to action and executes the man responsible for the death of his parents. When Dwight goes from quiet loner to a man hell-bent on revenge, the change of pace intoxicates and concerns. Dwight doesn’t seem to have the tools to carry out his hasty plan of retribution.
Concerned that his violence will be repaid on his family, Dwight heads to his sister’s house to send her to safety. When the family of the man Dwight killed arrives on the scene, a fast-paced attack leads to an extended game of cat and mouse. In true tragic fashion, the initial murder in this story set forth a chain-reaction of mayhem and violence that takes on a propulsion all its own. The story has Southern Gothic elements, full of betrayal, strong-but-twisted familial bonds and dark secrets of passion. The movie brings to mind both "Winter’s Bone" and Jeff Nichols’ "Shotgun Stories," and as with Michael Shannon’s character in the latter, Blair plays a reluctant vigilante, duty-bound to justice and hypnotized by grief into an act of annihilation. Blair’s powerful performance and Saulnier’s taut writing and direction should help accelerate the careers of both men.
"Blue Ruin" screens again at 2 p.m. Thursday.