Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock
Plot: Dwight (Blair) is a drifter currently living out of his car when not scavenging for food and money. However his life living off the grid is interrupted when he finds out the man who killed his parents is set to be released from prison so he begins to formulate a plan to take his revenge, only to soon find that its far from straight forward.
Review: The career path of director Jeremy Saulnier has certainly been funny one for while he made his directing debut with the 2007 black comedy “Murder Party” a film largely overlooked by most it meant that most people wondered where he had come from when he released this film while the established fans got the a completely different kind of movie than what they'd expected from him. Its also a film which despite its limited theatrical release still went on to be one of the most talked about movies of late with his follow up film “Green Room” only furthering the interest in this film and creating a perhaps unintentional one two punch as audiences often find themselves watching one and quickly seeking out the other.
Shot on a modest budget of $35,000 raised through Kickstarter and his own funds here Saulnier crafts a simple yet effective tale which not only brings to mind the Coen Brothers debut “Blood Simple” but also the equally overlooked "Big Bad Wolves" all while bringing its own unique spin to the revenge genre. While the more traditional approach to this kind of film would see the wronged party spending most of the film plotting their revenge, here Saulnier instead mixes things up by giving Dwight his revenge in the first twenty minutes with Saulnier more interested in the fallout from this situation especially when the family of the man he killed come seeking revenge on him.
Reuniting with his long time collaborator Macon Blair who here plays the unlikely angel of vengeance and who when we first meet him is an almost mute heavily bearded drifter scavenging for food and cashing in cans for money. Right from the start though its clear that Dwight is out of his depth as we see his failed attempts to get a gun only to break it thanks to his attempts to break the security lock. Its almost painfully obvious as we follow Dwight that here we have a man who is using what he’s seen in movies as a guide rather than having any kind of training, a fact that only becomes the more obvious during this first quarter to the film in the lead up to Dwight fatally stabbing the man he believes to be his parents killer in a dive bar toilet.
While this first quarter might give us a mini revenge movie of sorts its really the fallout from his actions that make up the real meat of the story here. The mild mannored Dwight soon finding himself increasingly out of his depth as he’s now hunted by the killer family who have zero qualms about dishing out their own vigilante justice as we discover when they come looking for him at his sisters house. Needless to say the real fun of the film is seeing how he handles the situation which constantly threatens to consume him.
It should be noted that while Dwight’s path of revenge might be a twisting one Saulnier maintains a very black and white world view with the members of the Cleland clan being all grimy and morally devoid compared to Dwight who now is shown as the clean shaven every man who has been thrown into this situation he now having to handle himself, knowing full well that to go to the cops would only lead to him incriminating himself in the process. This inturn gives us such great scenes as Dwight attempting to revolve a crossbow bolt from his leg and his confrontation with Teddy (Kolack) one of the Cleland brothers who he ends up holding hostage in the trunk of his car.
While the violence throughout the film is frequently bloody and graphic Saulnier still shows incredible restraint in when he unleashes such imagery which only serves to maximise its effect when it does happen such as the bathroom stabbing or during the final confrontation. At the same time his characters are not immune to the effects of the violence around them, especially Dwight who constantly struggles to deal with the consequences of his actions bringing a real sense of reality to the film rather than have him just be another emotionless vigilante.
Unquestionably this is Blair’s film as he convincingly plays out Dwight’s journey so that you can believe in the choices he makes. At the same time he also recives strong support from Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister and one of the few pillars of support he has with the other coming from his childhood friend played with a perfect almost deadpan ton by Devin Ratray whose appearance while perhaps more brief than I would have liked still like so many of the characters featured throughout leaves a memorable impression.
This really is a film best seen with as little expectation as possible and while it starts off perhaps alittle slow once it gets rolling it grabs hold of you and refuses to relinquish its grip till its played out its grim finale. Between this film and “Green Room” Saulnier really marks himself out as a talent worth watching and I’m now excited to see where he goes from here.