How much of your life rides on the outcome of one event?
Meet Dwight Evans. He’s a vagrant, camping in his car, eating from the trash, occasionally breaking into homes to bathe or get something a little fresher to eat. He seems … distant, lost, a bit shaky, like maybe he’s in shock or just not quite altogether there.
Turns out that, years before we meet him, Dwight’s parents were murdered. The killer is someone the family knew and was jailed for the crime. Until Blue Ruin begins, and Dwight finds out that Wade Cleland is being released from prison.
It is the spark that light’s Dwight’s wick. He gathers his limited possessions and takes off for Virginia. He seeks a firearm, but has no luck. He’s there, watching, when Wade walks out of prison to meet his family. Dwight follows the group to a restaurant, hides in the bathroom and stabs Wade in the neck at the first opportunity.
From there, the violence just keeps coming. Wade’s family knows the attacker was Dwight, knows where his sister lives, even where she hides when Dwight warns her what may be coming. Dwight is forced to fight, ending up responsible for the death of one of Wade’s brothers and others before his journey ends.
That is what Blue Ruin is about: The cycle of violence. Dwight clearly is mild-mannered, tender and generally a nice guy. But one horrific event – the death of his parents – brought his life to a grinding halt. And the only thing that could help Dwight gain forward momentum is the release of Wade, the opportunity to avenge his parents. Dwight can go no further, won’t pass Go, won’t collect $200 until that is taken care of.
The deeper into the shit Dwight wades, the more he recognizes how it must end. He has to kill all of Wade’s family, his own life be damned. The few people who are involved in Dwight’s life – his sister, his nieces, a high school chum – their lives will all be forfeit if Dwight fails.
And so Dwight trudges on toward the inevitable. At any point where he considers backing off, he is spurred further by confirmation of his assessment, that his loved ones are in danger. Even toward the end, Dwight believes, for a brief moment, that he can back off, walk no further down this bloody path. But Wade’s family won’t allow his family safe passage, so Dwight does what he must.
Writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier crafts a Coen Brother’s-esque story of revenge. Saulnier is skilled, eschewing dialogue when possible, allowing Dwight’s – and everyone else’s – actions to speak for themselves. Words don’t mean much here, with the consequences of such actions often being fatal. It makes for a quieter, more contemplative movie, and Saulnier encourages that openness, that space for the viewer to think about what they’re seeing. There are moments of brief humor, but the absurdity comes more from how Dwight continually finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into the muck the more he fights to get out of it, as well as how lucky he gets at every turn.