Horror Review: Hold the Dark (dir. by Jeremy Saulnier)


Hold the Dark

Jeremy Saulnier, writer and director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, invites the brave and the curious to experience his latest creation steeped in the dark, foreboding Alaskan wilderness with a hint of the supernatural and folklore mysticism.

One could never accuse Saulnier of being timid when it comes to on-screen violence. While there’s countless other filmmakers who can and have put on the screen much more dynamic and violent sequences, Saulnier is more of the Peckinpah school of film violence instead of the Michael Bay. His films portray violence at its most unglamorous. His study of the sort of violent means man can inflict on another man are neither titillating or exploitative.

He sees man’s tendency towards violence as primal and something inherent in every man with the veneer of civilization the only thing holding it back. Man, in how Saulnier sees him, is not a civilized species but one playing at one and who feels more at home practicing such violent means.

Whether it’s as an itinerant caught up in an old school blood feud or a hardcore punk band fighting to stay alive against some Northwest backswood Neo-nazi skinheads. They all dig down deep to find that inner primal self that revels in the bloodletting even when they try to hold on to that small slice of civilized behavior they’ve been taught was necessary to survive.

With Hold the Dark, Jeremy Saulnier veers away from the much more straightforward narrative of his last two films and more like an ambiguous campfire tale that may seem obtuse for some. The very ambiguous nature of the plot will definitely confound some viewers who prefer their thrillers to be easy to follow with well-defined roles of protagonist and antagonist. While Hold the Dark veers from that very linear narrative focus of Saulnier’s last two films, it does share those films study of the blurred lines of who is good and who is bad.

The film starts off with retired naturalist Russell Core (played by Jeffrey Wright) being summoned by grieving mother Medora Slone living in a remote village in the northern reaches of Alaska. She’s just lost her young son to what she says are a pack of wolves who have also taken two other children prior to her own. She knows that he is also a wolf expert and has hunted and put down wolves in his past. She wants the animals who killed her son found and killed in order to have an answer and closure for her husband who is currently deployed in Iraq.

From the moment Russell arrives in Medora’s village of Keelut, Alaska the film slowly,  but surely moves from being a man-vs-nature story to something that’s more a dark fairytale whose ending will definitely not be happily ever after. This is where Hold the Dark will either grab a viewer and tell them to just hold on and experience the violent, albeit sometimes confusing, happenings in this grim and dark corner of the world or they will fail to hold on and remain confused to what’s transpiring. Wanting to know whats going on in concrete, by-the-numbers facts and story beats.

Like Saulnier’s previous two films, Hold the Dark doesn’t shy away from showing how brutal man can be when it comes to inflicting pain and damage on another human being. The violence comes sudden, brutal and horrifically efficient in how a body can fall apart.

The screenplay, this time written solely by fellow collaborator Macon Blair, does bring some very interesting questions as to whether violence (or darkness) is inherent in man that is held at bay by the “light” of civilization or is it something that is learned, picked up like disease and passed on from generation to generation. Is violence a natural cycle that is just part of what makes humanity human or is it one that can be broken and left behind and cured of. These are some questions that sometimes has no easy answer and that lends the film’s obtuseness that may frustrate some viewers. Yet, it’s the film’s very ambiguousness that allows the viewer to marinate on the questions and ideas proposed. Whether there’s an answer to these questions will be up to the viewer.

Where the film’s story may frustate, the performances by the cast is excellent from start to finish. Whether it’s Jeffrey Wright’s Russel Core who is the stand-in for the viewer and one who also shares some of the viewers befuddlement at the situation he has found himself in but unable to break free from. Then there are Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard playing the Slone’s. One the grieving mother and the other the husband away at war whose reaction to news of his son’s death pushes the film’s narrative from a whodunit and straight into horror territory (some would say slasher film trope with creepy mask included).

Hold the Dark may not be a straight progression from what Jeremy Saulnier has done before with Blue Ruin and Green Room, but it is one that shares similar themes and ideas. It’s a film that allows for Saulnier to dabble in the more esoteric but nonetheless still keep his signature style as an auteur of raw, primal violence. There’s nothing light or hopeful in this latest dark fairytale from Jeremy Saulnier, but then again fairytales were never happy and hopeful to begin with, but tales to try and explain the encroaching darkness and something to help one hold it at bay.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Green Room (dir by Jeremy Saulnier)


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Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is one of the best films of the year but I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to bring myself to watch it a second time.

Why?

There’s two reasons:

Number one, Green Room is one of the most intense films that I’ve ever seen.  Much like Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, this is a violent movie that never makes violence look fun.  The violence here is all too real and the pain that the characters feel is all too real as well.  I watched a good deal of Green Room through my fingers, hiding my face behind my hands.  Seriously, I’ve seen some pretty gory movies.  (I’m an unapologetic fan of Italian horror, after all.)  But Green Room still left me shaken.  Occasionally, it even left me gasping for breath.  It’s just that intense.  It’s a film about four people battling for survival and I’m surprised (and a little proud) that I survived all the way to the end.

The other reason is that the film stars Anton Yelchin.  It was one of the final films that he made before his death and he gives such a likable and committed performance that it’s impossible for me to think about the film without getting a little emotional.  Far more than his supporting work in the Star Trek films, Green Room showcased what a good actor Anton Yelchin truly was.  It’s impossible for me to think about Green Room without mourning a talent taken from us far too soon.  And though it might be difficult to watch the film a second time, everyone should watch Green Room at least once.  If you ever wonder why some of us still get emotional when we talk about Anton Yelchin, it’s all there in the movie.

In Green Room, Yelchin plays Pat.  Pat is the bass player for a punk band called the Ain’t Rights.  The Ain’t Rights have been touring the northern part of the country.  It’s a low-budget tour, one that perfectly reflects that anti-corporate politics of the Ain’t Rights.  For them, the tour means crashing with friends, siphoning gasoline, and doing interviews with underground radio stations.  In fact, one interviewer — the rather dorky Tad (David W. Thompson) — arranges for them to do a show at an isolated bar in Oregon.  Tad tells them that the bar attracts a rough crowd but that they’ll be okay because his cousin Daniel (Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair) works there.

The Ain’t Rights arrive and discover that the club appears to have a clientele that is exclusively made up of Neo-Nazi skinheads.  After some hesitation, the Ain’t Rights take the stage and, for a few brief moments, Saulnier shows them performing in slow motion and those of us in the film’s audience — even someone like me, who would probably otherwise never listen to a band like the Ain’t Rights — are briefly caught up in the joy and excitement of their performance.

Unfortunately, while the band is performing, the Nazis are busy murdering a woman in the green room.  And, after the band walks in on the aftermath of the murder, they soon find themselves marked for death as well.  The band is smart enough to lock themselves in the green room and to take one of the Nazis as a hostage.  However, they know that they can’t stay in that room forever.  At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how to escape from the bar…

Green Room is a harrowing and violent film, one that maintains an almost feverish intensity from start to end.  Making it all the more difficult to watch is that Saulnier keeps the horror rooted in reality.  The Neo-Nazis never turn into cardboard movie slashers.  Instead, they are a very real and disturbing threat.  (It’s interesting to note that occasionally, a Neo-Nazis will express some doubt about killing the band but none of them have the courage to actually refuse any of the orders that they receive.  We often hear that people need to respect authority.  Well, Green Room shows what happens when people blindly respect authority to the extent that they can no longer think for themselves.)  Though the film may be violent, it never celebrates that violence and when one character does get a chunk of arm chopped off, it’s literally one of the most painful images to ever be captured on film.  You like every member of the band so, when they get hurt, you feel their pain as well.  Though Yelchin may be the main character, the other members of the Ain’t Rights — played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner — all make a good impression as well.  You want them all to escape and dread the realization that not all of them will.

As for the owner of the club, his name is Darcy and he’s played by Patrick Stewart.  At first, it may sound like stunt casting.  Patrick Stewart as a Neo-Nazi?  But interestingly enough, Darcy doesn’t really seem to care about ideology.  Instead, you get the feeling that he realized that there was money to be made by catering to racists so that’s what he decided to do.  When he barks out orders and demands that the members of the band be killed, his main motivation seems to be pure greed.  If the band escapes and reports the murder, he’ll lose his club.  Stewart gives a chilling performance.  When he first appears, you do think, “Hey, it’s Patrick Stewart!”  But, within minutes, you forget who is playing him.  He becomes Darcy and you’re scared to death of him and his followers.

Green Room is an incredibly intense and scary film.  It also features perhaps the best performance of Anton Yelchin’s career.  Green Room stands as a testament to a talent taken too early.

(On a purely personal note: I’m glad that Green Room took place in Oregon.  Too often, movies tend to portray racism as being an exclusively Southern issue, one that somehow magically disappears once you head up north.  It often feels as if people spend so much time talking about racism in other states that they fail to actually look at what’s happening in their own backyard.  It’s easier to laugh at a state like Alabama than to ask why someone like Eric Garner died on the streets of New York City.  Racism is an American issue, and that includes the states both below and above the Mason-Dixon line.)

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What if Lisa Marie Picked The Oscar Nominees!


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With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations.  Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated.  The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not.  Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year.  Winners are listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

2015 Best Picture Nominees

Best Picture

Boyhood

The Fault In Our Stars

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

The LEGO Movie

Nightcrawler

Palo Alto

Under the Skin

Wild

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Best Director

Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler

Jonathan Glazer for Under the Skin

James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy

*Richard Linklater for Boyhood*

Jean-Marc Vallee for Wild

Nightcrawler

Best Actor

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

Nicholas Cage in Joe

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

*Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler*

Tom Hardy in Locke

Michael Keaton in Birdman

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Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Emmanuelle Seigner in Venus In Fur

Shailene Woodley in The Fault In Our Stars

*Reese Witherspoon in Wild*

Gary Poulter in Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

*Gary Poulter in Joe*

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

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Best Supporting Actress

Patrica Arquette in Boyhood

Laura Dern in Wild

Emma Roberts in Palo Alto

Rene Russo in Nightcrawler

Emma Stone in Birdman

*Mia Wasikowska in Only Lovers Left Alive*

Vin-Diesel-is-Groot-Official-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Best Voice Over Performance

Scott Adsit in Big Hero 6

Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy

Kate del Castillo in The Book of Life

*Vin Diesel in Guardians of the Galaxy*

Morgan Freeman in The LEGO Movie

Chris Pratt in The LEGO Movie

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Best Original Screenplay

*Boyhood*

Chef

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The LEGO Movie

Nightcrawler

The One I Love

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Best Adapted Screenplay

The Fault In Our Stars

Gone Girl

Guardians of the Galaxy

Palo Alto

Venus in Fur

*Wild*

Lego Movie

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6

The Book of Life

The Boxtrolls

How To Train Your Dragon 2

*The LEGO Movie*

JodorowskysDune

Best Documentary Feature

Art and Craft

*Jodorowsky’s Dune*

The Last Patrol

Life Itself

Private Violence

Under the Electric Sky

Venus_in_Fur_poster

Best Foreign Language Film

Borgman

Ida

Illiterate

The Raid 2

*Venus In Fur*

We Are The Best!

Boyhood Image

Best Casting

*Boyhood*

Foxcatcher

Joe

Snowpiercer

Under the Skin

Wild

Palo Alto

Best Cinematography

California Scheming

A Field In England

Foxcatcher

If I Stay

Nightcrawler

*Palo Alto*

Meryl-Streep-Into-The-Woods

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One

In Secret

*Into the Woods*

Pompeii

Film Review Under the Skin

Best Editing

Birdman

Boyhood

Guardians of the Galaxy

Nightcrawler

*Under the Skin*

Wild

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-gang

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods

Maleficent

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Best Original Score

California Scheming

A Field in England

Gone Girl

Guardians of the Galaxy

Nightcrawler

*Under the Skin*

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Best Original Song

“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

“The Apology Song” from The Book of Life

“Split the Difference” from Boyhood

“Yellow Flicker Beats” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One

*”Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie*

“Sister Rust” from Lucy

“Mercy” from Noah

“Hal” from Only Lovers Left Alive

“Rock Star” from Palo Alto

“Summer Nights” from Under the Electric Sky

GuardiandoftheGalaxy

Best Overall Use Of Music

Begin Again

Boyhood

A Field in England

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

Only Lovers Left Alive

Whiplash

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-580

Best Production Design

*The Grand Budapest Hotel*

Guardians of the Galaxy

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods

Snowpiercer

Winter’s Tale

Fury

Best Sound Editing

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Field in England

*Fury*

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Capt2-Payoff-1-Sht-v8-Lg-c563d

Best Sound Mixing

*Captain America: The Winter Soldier*

A Field in England

Fury

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Dawn-Of-The-Planet-Of-The-Apes3-e1396236946120

Best Stunt Work

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

*Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*

Divergent

In the Blood

Raze

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-rocket-with-gun

Best Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Edge of Tomorrow

Godzilla

*Guardians of the Galaxy*

Interstellar

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Number of Nominations by Film

14 Nominations — Guardians of the Galaxy

9 Nominations — Boyhood

8 Nominations — Nightcrawler

7 Nominations — Wild

6 Nominations — Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lego Movie, Under the Skin

5 Nominations —  A Field in England, Palo Alto

4 Nominations — X-Men: Days of Future Past

3 Nominations — Birdman, The Book of LifeCapt. America: The Winter Soldier, The Fault In Our Stars, Gone Girl, Inherent Vice, Into the WoodsJoe, Only Lovers Left AliveVenus in Fur

2 Nominations — Begin AgainBig Hero 6, California SchemingDawn of the Planet of Apes, Fury, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part OneMaleficent, SnowpiercerUnder the Electric SkyWhiplash

1 Nomination — Art and CraftBlue Ruin, BorgmanThe Box Trolls, ChefDivergent, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Ida, If I StayIlliterate, In SecretIn the Blood, Interstellar, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Last Patrol, Life ItselfLocke, Lucy, NoahThe One I Love, Pompeii, Private ViolenceThe Raid 2Raze, We Are The Best!, Winter’s Tale

Numbers of Oscars By Film

5 Oscars — Guardians of the Galaxy

3 Oscars — Boyhood

2 Oscars — The LEGO Movie, Under the Skin, Wild

1 Oscar — Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Plaent of the Apes, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Fury, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods, Joe, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Palo Alto, Venus In Fur

Oscars

Here Are The Gotham Nominations!


Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Here are the nominations for the Gotham Independent Film Awards!  It’s debatable just how reliable the Gothams are as an Oscar precursor.  For one thing, the majority of the big studio productions are not eligible for the Gothams.  However, when you’re an indie film trying to win mainstream awards, any recognition is good recognition.

As far as the nominees go, Birdman and Boyhood are already Oscar front runners.  However, the Gotham nominations will perhaps remind some people that The Grand Budapest Hotel is eligible for Oscar consideration as well.

Here are the Gotham nominations!

Best Feature

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, director; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Boyhood – Richard Linklater, director; Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, producers (IFC Films)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson, director; Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Love Is Strange – Ira Sachs, director; Lucas Joaquin, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Ira Sachs, Jayne Baron Sherman, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer, director; Nick Wechsler, James Wilson, producers (A24 Films)

Best Documentary

  • Actress – Robert Greene, director; Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Robert Greene, producers (The Cinema Guild)
  • CITIZENFOUR – Laura Poitras, director; Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky, producers (RADiUS, Participant Media, and HBO Documentary Films)
  • Life Itself – Steve James, director; Zak Piper, Steve James, Garrett Basch, producers (Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films)
  • Manakamana – Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, directors; Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, producers (The Cinema Guild)
  • Point and Shoot – Marshall Curry, director; Marshall Curry, Elizabeth Martin, Matthew Van Dyke, producers (The Orchard and American Documentary / POV)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

  • Ana Lily Amirpour for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber)
  • James Ward Byrkit for Coherence (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
  • Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
  • Eliza Hittman for It Felt Like Love (Variance Films)
  • Justin Simien for Dear White People (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Best Actor*

  • Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
  • Ethan Hawke in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year (A24 Films)
  • Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Miles Teller in Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)

* The 2014 Best Actor nominating panel also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award jointly to Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum for their ensemble performance in Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics).

Best Actress

  • Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
  • Julianne Moore in Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (A24 Films)
  • Mia Wasikowska in Tracks (The Weinstein Company)

Breakthrough Actor

  • Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
  • Macon Blair in Blue Ruin (RADiUS)
  • Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood (IFC Films)
  • Joey King in Wish I Was Here (Focus Features)
  • Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (A24 Films)
  • Tessa Thompson in Dear White People (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Boyhood

Boyhood

Embracing the Melodrama #60: Blue Ruin (dir by Jeremy Saulnier)


Blue Ruin

Well, all good things must come to an end and here it is.  This is the final entry in a little series that I like to call Embracing the Melodrama.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, 60 of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.  We’ve looked at everything from films that were nominated for (and occasionally won) Oscars to films that played in a few grindhouses and drive-ins before disappearing into obscurity.  We’ve reviewed big budget spectaculars and movies that were apparently filmed for less money than I typically spend during a weekend shopping spree.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  If I’ve introduced you to a film you previously did not know or if I’ve inspired you to track down and watch an old classic, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and I’m happy.  We started this series by looking at a film from 1916 and now, we end it with a movie that was released into theaters just a few months ago.

That film is Blue Ruin and, if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should.

Now, I want to be careful just how much I tell you about Blue Ruin‘s story because, much like the thematically similar Cold In July, Blue Ruin may start out like a standard thriller but it soon moves in unexpected and surprising directions.  It’s not so much that the film’s plot is unpredictable (in fact, one of the film’s strengths is that the story told is essentially a simple one) as much as it’s the fact that the film adds an element of ambiguity to that plot that forces you to reconsider all of your preconceived notions.  Blue Ruin is a revenge film for people who like to think.

Blue Ruin opens with the bearded and clearly unstable Dwight (Macon Blair) going through trash cans and dumpsters in search of food.  Dwight lives in his filthy car and it quickly becomes obvious that, despite Dwight’s disheveled appearance, he’s not really much of a threat to anyone.  Instead, he simply wants to be left alone.  However, one day, Dwight is approached by a friendly police officer who tells him that a man named Wade Cleland has been replaced from prison.  The suddenly motivated Dwight responds by driving his car to the prison and watching as Wade is released.  Dwight than manages to get a knife (after first trying to steal a gun and failing so completely that you can’t help but feel sorry for him) and goes to the small country bar where Wade and his family are celebrating his freedom.  Dwight manages to get into the club and, after a brutal fight, fatally stabs Wade in the temple.

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

Macon Blair in Blue Ruin

The rest of the film deals with both the reasons behind and the consequences of Dwight’s actions and it would not be right for me to spoil the film any more than I already have.  Let’s just say that neither Dwight nor the Clelands turn out to be quite who we believed them to be.  The crimes of the past aren’t quite as clear-cut as either Dwight or the Clelands initially assumed.  All that is clear is that now that Dwight has taken his revenge, the Clelands now feel the need to take their own revenge.  It’s an endless cycle that’s made all the more complicated by the fact that neither Dwight nor the Clelands are as good at this whole revenge thing as they think.

Chances are that you’ve never heard of Macon Blair.  I hadn’t heard of him until I saw him in this movie.  But, obscure or not, that doesn’t change the fact that, in the role of Dwight, Macon Blair gives one of the best performances of the year so far.  He turns Dwight into a sort of mentally unstable everyman and, as a result, Dwight is a truly memorable and unexpectedly poignant lead character.

It’s interesting that 2014 has seen the release of several films that feature unlikely and morally ambiguous protagonists dealing with violence, revenge, and secrets in the South.  Blue Ruin joins Cold In July and Joe as one of the best films of 2014.  And it also provides a high note for which to close out Embracing the Melodrama.

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