I haven’t been writing as many reviews recently, though I’ve been going to every bit as many films. Just one of those fallow periods I guess. There are still interesting movies coming out, though, and one that may have got missed in the glut of fine films is Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to Blue Ruin. Aside from the colour-themed titles (which inflect each film’s respective cinematographic palette), the two films are linked by Saulnier’s reliance on mining genre conventions — in this case, he’s set up a tense thriller format in which our heroes, an anarchist punk band, gets trapped in a cabin in the woods by a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads. I’ve seen it called a horror film and perhaps those more familiar with that genre will find things in common, but to me there’s a lack of horror to the way the story is set out (though there’s plenty of tension). Sure, when things get going, the gore does properly fly, but the curious thing to me is the almost matter-of-fact way it’s presented. All the actors, even the ones playing the skinheads (led by Patrick Stewart), have a human quality, almost as if they all want the best for the situation even if their personal ideologies are inflected by hate (being set in the Oregon backwoods, so beloved of libertarians and survivalists, there’s a notable lack of any people of colour, so racism never really comes into play). It somewhat complicates the genre trappings not to have anyone to actively hate, and when our punk band get into the action, their violence is every bit as nasty as that inflicted on them. I suppose that makes it a film in which nobody wins, which perhaps accounts for the tone of the ending, but in any case it’s another strong cinematic outing for Saulnier.
Director/Writer Jeremy Saulnier; Cinematographer Sean Porter; Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Thursday 19 May 2016.
This blog can’t claim to be a particular follower of trends, but even my attention hasn’t entirely been bypassed by the rise of crowdsourcing for film projects. There was the much ballyhooed Veronica Mars film, of course (one for the existing fans, I expect, which is why I gave it a miss), while just earlier this year, there was the release of documentary The Punk Singer. Now we have this, which premiered as far back as last year’s Sundance and finally gets its UK release, and is not particularly niche interest like the other two I’ve mentioned. Then again, my understanding is that it wasn’t entirely funded via Kickstarter, but that gaps were plugged to ensure it was finally made. However, happily, it doesn’t seem as if any unfortunate creative compromises were required, and what has resulted is a taut and enjoyable little thriller. What’s compelling about it is not any formal innovation or challenge to the revenge thriller genre — it very much works within familiar frameworks — but in the straightforward delights that are to be had in the way it slowly unfolds the setting and the protagonist’s backstory, and the subtlety and control in the acting performances. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, suffice to say that as it opens, our hero (or is he?) is living in his car and has clearly not availed himself of any personal hygiene in quite some time. In his beaten-up car, he follows a man being released from prison to a local bar and there attacks him. How things develop from there are for the viewer to learn, but you may take solace that there’s nothing gratuitously moronic or torture-porn-sadistic involved. Script aside, I’ve also mentioned the acting, from a cast primarily unknown to me, but who do well in these roles. As the protagonist Dwight, Macon Blair is onscreen for pretty much the entire film, and has to bring emphathy and pathos to an almost catatonically mumbling character, but he does this very well, without the annoying tics that you might expect with this kind of character. Being so unknown to film audiences, the supporting cast too — including Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister Sam, and Devin Ratray as his metal-loving school friend Ben — completely inhabit their roles and are believable foils to Dwight’s bloody-mindedness. In all, Blue Ruin is a nicely-made and satisfying thriller, and a credit to its clearly very committed cast and crew.
Director/Writer/Cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier; Starring Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Devin Ratray; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Tuesday 20 May 2014.