Director Jeremy Saulnier made waves in 2007 with his debut feature Murder Party, a well-constructed, perhaps a little over-ambitious horror-comedy that was head and shoulders above most of the mainstream releases coming out that year. His return to the big screen is nothing short of astonishing: Blue Ruin is a taut, tight, incredibly tense but also laugh-out-loud funny revenge thriller the likes of which only come out once in a blue moon.
Dwight (Macon Blair in a terrific turn) is an outsider who lives out of a car on the beach, avoiding contact with other people, save for breaking into their homes from time to time to use their bathrooms and steal small necessities. However, the arrival of friendly police officer Eddy (Sidné Anderson) with some unexpected news sets Dwight on a path of vengeance and destruction that will engulf him and all those he knows.
Blue Ruin is released in the UK on DVD + Blu-ray on 8 September 2014.
Blue Ruin is best appreciated blind because the joy of the film is as reliant on the journey of Dwight as it is on the narrative twists. With a palette reminiscent of the loved-but-forgotten neo-noir Westerns of the 90s such as Red Rock West and Kill me Again, he paints the story of a resourceful everyman who becomes an avenger who finds himself out of his depth. With a beautiful synth score and immaculate sound design, the film ratchets up the tension, keeping the audience engrossed through a number of unexpected key sequences.
Within a much-appreciated 90-minute runtime, Saulnier, writing and directing, manages to create an entire world populated with wholly believable characters who face the consequences of their actions in dark and remarkable ways. Saulnier is also a skilful cinematographer (as movie-lovers can see in films such as the wonderful I Used To Be Darker and You Hurt My Feelings) and his visual style is striking, capturing the inane banality of Dwight’s journey with stops on the way for arresting imagery.
Using Macon Blair’s expressive face to full effect, Saulnier drags the journey on the vengeance trail kicking and screaming. What’s the most impressive, however, is his ability to mine incredibly funny dark humour during scenes of unbearable tension – a trait which he had demonstrated before in Murder Party.
Saulnier claims that he made Blue Ruin to prove that he wasn’t just a horror genre filmmaker – in fact during one of his festival appearances he admitted that he had to distance himself from Murder Party because no one would finance anything that was outside of horror. While that state of affairs is an indication of the general attitude towards genre filmmakers, Saulnier’s stellar effort in Blue Ruin will serve as a reminder that he is a talent to watch with the ability to strike across multiple genres.
In the wilderness, in the dark, it’s sound that plays tricks upon your eyes – not what you can’t see, but what your imagination conjures with every rustle, crack, crunch, moan and shriek. When something outdoors whacks the side of your tent, reality sinks in, the palpability of fear turns raw, numbing and virtually life-draining.
You’re fucked! Right royally fucked!
There were, of course, the happier times – when you and the woman you loved embarked on the fun-fuelled journey of retracing the steps of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin who, in the fall of 1967 shot a little less than 1000 frames of motion picture footage of an entity they encountered striding through the isolated Bluff Creek in North-Western California.
Your gal was humouring you, of course. She was indulging you. She was not, however, mocking you – she was genuinely enjoying this time of togetherness in the wilderness as you lovebirds took turns with the camera and sound equipment to detail the whole experience. You both sauntered into every cheesy tourist trap in the area, chatted amiably with numerous believers and non-believers alike and, of course, you both dined on scrumptious Bigfoot burgers at a local greasy spoon.
Yup, Bigfoot – the legendary being sometimes known as Sasquatch or Yeti – a tall, broad, hairy, ape-like figure who captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of indigenous populations and beyond – especially when the Patterson-Gimlin footage took the world by storm. And now, here you both are in Willow Creek, California, following the footsteps of those long-dead amateur filmmakers.
All of us have been watching, with considerable pleasure, your romantic antics throughout the day. When night falls, we’ve joined you in your tent and soon, the happy times fade away and we’re all wishing we had some receptacle to avoid soiling our panties. You’re probably wishing the same thing, because in no time at all, you’re going to have the crap scared out of you.
Willow Creek is released on DVD in the UK on 26 May 2014 by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.
We have, of course, entered the world of Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek. Goldthwait is one of the funniest men alive – a standup comedian of the highest order and a terrific comic actor, oft-recognized for his appearances in numerous movies (including the Police Academy series). He’s voiced a myriad of cartoon characters and directed Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show and subsequent concert flick.
In addition to these achievements, Goldthwait has solidified himself as one of the most original, exciting and provocative contemporary American film directors working today. His darkly humoured, satirical and (some might contend) completely over-the-top films are infused with a unique voice that’s all his own. They’ve made me laugh longer and harder than almost anything I’ve seen during the past two decades or so.
Even more astounding is that his films – his first depicting the life of an alcoholic birthday party clown, one involving dog fellatio, another about an accidental teen strangulation during masturbation and yet another which delivered a violent revenge fantasy for Liberals – ALL have a deep current of humanity running through them. His movies are as deeply observational and genuinely moving as they are nastily funny and often jaw-droppingly shocking.
God Bless America, for example, is clearly the most perverse vigilante movie ever made. Goldthwait created a wonderful character in Frank, an average American white-collar worker who suffers noisy neighbours, endless hours of TV he hates but watches anyway, loses his job for sexually harassing a dumpy co-worker who’s been coming on to him, is estranged from a wife who left him for a hunky, thick-witted cop, only gets to see his daughter by promising to buy her things he can’t afford and has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. When this beleaguered schlub begins a spree of mass murder, doing what all Liberals must do when civilization is on the brink of collapse, we’re with him all the way. When he teams up with a like-minded 12-year-old girl, the two of them a veritable Bonnie and Clyde, blasting away at America’s most vile entities, Goldthwait’s movie goes ballistic and so do we, cheering on these very cool birds of a feather who kill people – not because they’re necessarily criminals, but because they are horrible human beings contributing to society’s downfall.
I actually thought Goldthwait was going to have a hard time following that one, but I was wrong, of course. Willow Creek is a corker! It forces you to emit cascades of urine from laughing so hard, then wrenches sausage chubs of steaming excrement out of your bowels as it scares you out of your wits.
It’s a ‘found footage’ film, but I hesitate to use the almost-dirty-word to describe it, because Goldthwait, unlike far too many boneheads, hardly resorts to the sloppy tropes of the now tiresome genre. He’s remained extremely true and consistent to the conceit and in so doing, uses it as an effective storytelling tool to generate an honest-to-goodness modern masterwork of horror.
His attractive leads are nothing less than engaging. Lead actor Bryce Johnson has a naturally comic and commanding presence. As a bonus, he reveals a scrumptious posterior that the ladies will admire (and, of course, gentlemen of the proper persuasion). Alexie Gilmore is so attractive, sharp, smart and funny that it would be a shame if stardom wasn’t in the cards for her.
Goldthwait’s clever mixture of real locals and actors is perfection and the movie barrels along with a perfect pace to allow you to get to know and love the protagonists, laugh with them, laugh with the locals (not at them) and finally to plunge you into the film’s shuddering, shocking and horrific final third. The movie both creeps you out and forces you to jump out of your seat more than once.
Goldthwait is the real thing. If you haven’t seen his movies up to this point, you must. As for Willow Creek, I’d urge everyone to see the film on a big screen with a real audience if they can. When things get super-terrifying, you can feel that wonderful electric buzz that can only happen when you’re at the movies. Sure, it will work fine at home in a dark room with your best girlie snuggled at your side on the comfy couch, but – WOW! – this is a genuine BIG SCREEN EVENT. Try to see it that way, first! The movie is so good that it holds up nicely on subsequent viewings, allowing you to appreciate the full nuance of Goldthwait’s direction, his expert use of sound, the delectable humour (black and otherwise shaded) and then, there’s the bravura with which Goldthwait gives you the willies before he delivers several moments of cinematic cold cocking roundhouse blows.