The term “world building” is usually thrown out in the context of a summer, tent pole blockbuster like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Godzilla. It refers to the filmmakers ability to thrust the audience into a world that may seem similar or completely different to them and slowly build around them, linking pieces together and creating an organism that begs to be journeyed in more (see Star Wars).
But it can also work on a subtle scale.
It can be the smallest of venues but still draw the viewer into a world very similar to the one we live in that has moving pieces all its own, and in a unique way. This is the case for Blue Ruin, a revenge flick that works well in its simple, small-town setting but offers a sleek storyline that builds tall-tales within the restrained setting.
Blue Ruin follows Dwight (Macon Blair), a drifter who has recently learned that the man who murdered his parents has been paroled from jail. The story follows Dwight as he tries to settle the score with the Cleland family (the convicted murder’s family) while keeping his sister Sam out of the line of fire.
Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has built this world within the reality we are living in. The setting is all small towns with people who are no different from your neighbors. Saulnier crafts the story around this hero who is simplistic and makes mistakes, harkening a comparison to the Coen Brothers, which makes him all the more fun to root for.
While the film doesn’t nose dive ever into Dwight’s past, or his family’s past either, it gives enough of an outline to move the plot along and keep the viewer engaged. Blair is superb as the man who wants revenge but feels improperly prepared to execute it. What Blue Ruin does so well is build a reality-infused foundation for Dwight’s actions and makes you believe that the decisions he makes, the ways he executes them and the ramifications of these actions are all plausible and it never feels like the movie is letting him get away with something for the sake of saving our hero.
It’s a trait that escapes movies nowadays and was refreshing to see a film respect the character. Saulnier never allows Dwight to be 100 percent in the clear with his actions and uses our own knowledge of what he is planning next as a tool for suspense. In one scene when part of the Cleland family rages by the phone listening to a voicemail left by Dwight to distract them while he sits in wait is a perfect example of Saulnier’s use of tension in the film.
The shot has Dwight hiding behind the corner, gun in hand, on the left side. Blair does an excellent job of showing Dwight’s anguish for the moment through his face as the people who he knows he must kill sit in the room and curse his name. Dwight doesn’t want to do it but the circumstances garner it and Saulnier puts the hero in this situation multiple times in the film.
Blue Ruin is a perfect example of small-scale world building and the ability of a filmmaker to create a different world within our own reality. It is a film that creates a hero that seems no different from a normal guy walking down the street but puts him in situations where he must make decisions that any of us would consider if faced with the issue he is facing.