‘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

The ‘Whimsical Woman’ shares what she learns on the trail

Jennifer Mabus came here from Nevada and Hawaii. She leads hikes and blogs about them.

Branch out: ‘Tasting Cider’ recipes call for hard apple cider

Top cider makers share how they like to make hush puppies, bread pudding and the pear-fect cocktail.

‘Tasting Cider’ a sweet resource for hard apple cider fans

Erin James, the editor-in-chief of Cidercraft magazine, wrote a book all about the fermented drink.

For Texas BBQ, look for the school bus at the reptile museum

This husband-and-wife team has been serving up brisket and more for a decade in Monroe.

You won’t be able to stop eating this colorful chicken salad

The slaw of bell pepper, cabbage and carrot holds up well overnight in the refrigerator.

Raising grandkids can feel like the second time around

The responsiblities of serving as a parent can compete with the joys of being a grandparent.

Commentary: Community Transit to keep up with regional growth

Snohomish County’s bus system prepares for more people — including more older residents.

Fur & Feathers with energetic Lincoln and big-attitude Chase

One dog is not a fan of cats or men. The other definitely prefers adults only.

Almost everyone has questions about Social Security

The most frequent guestion about retirement benefits: ‘When can I start receiving them?’

Most Read