*** (out of four)
Bug-eyed and nervous, his face drooping like a person sliding off a bench, Dwight (Macon Blair) looks a lot like comedian Jon Daly (“Kroll Show,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”). But there’s nothing funny about Dwight’s situation: In the tunnel-tight “Blue Ruin,” violence is everywhere, whether it’s past or imminent.
For a while in this tense thriller from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, little is said or known. Dwight lives off the grid, opening the film by jumping out of a bath and then a first-floor window, fearing the homeowners’ arrival. He’s soon warned that a killer is about to be freed from prison. I’m reluctant to say much more about the plot because there isn’t a ton of it, and much of the pleasure of “Blue Ruin” is letting its urgency coil around your heart, daring it to move. The atmosphere is immediate and unflinching.
An efficient, 86-minute genre piece like this may be fat-free, but it also leaves room for details that would set it aside from its cinematic relatives. (Many have compared the film to early Coen brothers work.) It’s also the impact of one action on all involved that drives this revenge tale. Saulnier knows how to depict vengeance without suggesting it’s going to do any good. He may shoot himself in the foot by going for a laugh or two at the wrong time, but he also gets maximum results from bullets shared between enemies who still register as people rather than faceless villains.
Tragedy spreads like a virus in “Blue Ruin,” in which the difficulty of determining if you’re playing offense or defense is part of the point.
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