‘Blue Ruin’ expertly uses humor to show absurdity of revenge

Layering humor into violent situations is a trademark of both multiplex and American indie movies, and it’s frequently an empty gesture — a hipster wink to the audience, a cheapening of anything like real engagement with the material.

However: While fugitive humor emerges in regular intervals in the bloody, micro-budget revenge picture “Blue Ruin,” this is something different. The jokes are funny, for one thing, but they also serve a purpose.

If plenty of movies (and novels and plays) preach lessons on the negative toll of revenge, this one goes straight for revenge-as-absurdity. Why wouldn’t we laugh at the subject?

Dwight (the heroic Macon Blair) lives in a disintegrating blue car by the seashore. He receives disturbing news: The man convicted of killing his parents is being released from prison.

This sets in motion Dwight’s revenge, a plan so haphazard and freely improvised that at times it approximates the end-over-end momentum of a Road Runner cartoon. The road leads to Dwight’s sister’s house (where the movie briefly flirts with a “Home Alone” homage) and the home of the killer’s family, a brood so stoked with backwoods clannishness that they seem prepared to give up everything just to wipe Dwight from the face of the earth.

There’s also a terrific interlude involving Dwight’s old high-school buddy (Devin Ratray, one of the glorious brothers from “Nebraska”), a gun enthusiast with a meticulous approach to problem-solving. Along with its exploration of revenge scenarios, “Blue Ruin” is adept at suggesting that America’s heartland is rife with characters who fall just shy of the chain saw-massacre business.

The movie is the sophomore effort of director-writer Jeremy Saulnier, a clever chap who clearly wants to grab some attention with this ingenious effort. And yet, except for the explosions of violence, the movie isn’t flashy; Saulnier trusts his material enough to let the early reels unfold slowly, with very little dialogue, as he sets up his dominoes.

Throwaway references gain weight as revelations leak out along the way — it’s suggested that the blue car might have a significant history in this saga, for instance — and Saulnier already knows how to string along a running gag. (On the latter score, pay attention to the car keys.)

The way the humor can’t entirely crowd out something horribly sad is one of the film’s real achievements. That, and the observation that a bullet wound hurts less than being shot with an arrow. That might not sound funny, but in context? Hilarious.

“Blue Ruin” (three stars)

This intriguing indie finds some new wrinkles in a basic revenge scenario: A man (Macon Blair) seeks his parents’ killer, newly released from prison. Director Jeremy Saulnier finds a weirdly humorous undertone to this bloody tale, as though reminding us that revenge is innately absurd.

Rating: R, for violence, language

Opening: Friday May 9 at Sundance Cinemas Seattle.

More in Life

‘Found’: Author and climber a 20-year veteran of mountain rescue

In her second book, Bree Loewen shares her experiences of volunteering with Seattle Mountain Rescue.

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

Stock your winter bookshelf with these animal and nature reads

Four new books cover outdoors topics from butterflies to wolves.

The Shed Players recently released their new album “Our Shingle Most Favorites.”
Listen here: Josh Clauson, The Shed Players release new CDs

This feature is all about Snohomish County’s homegrown talent: locals who make music and record it.

Newfangled cooker isn’t for those with tried and true methods

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley recently succumbed to peer pressure and purchased an Instant Pot.

Now is the time to assess your student’s back-to-school plan

Take a good look at how your kids are managing their new routine, class, teacher(s) and homework.

Author’s talk of birds and clouds kicks off Marysville series

1. Birds and clouds Marysville’s Outdoor Adventure Speakers Series is kicking into… Continue reading

How to shop in the street markets of France

It’s the best way to connect with the nation’s farmers and artisans.

Oprah Winfrey joins ‘60 Minutes’ for 50th anniversary year

The media giant debuts on tonight’s show, reporting on a story about America’s political divisions.

Most Read