I saw two revenge-thrillers that were both brilliant nail-biters. Blue Ruin comes from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier — the man behind the cult favorite Murder Party — and the second sees the return of co-writer/director Jim Mickle (last year’s We Are What We Are) with Cold in July. One is on his way to becoming a seasoned genre vet with no sign of slowing down venturing from the Midnight section to U.S. Dramatic Competition, and the other makes an ambitious leap forward from his no-budget origins in the Next category. I can’t wait to see both of these again!
Blue Ruin features Macon Blair in a star-making debut as off-the-grid loner Dwight who has just learned that the man who killed his parents has been let out of prison on parole. In a fit of vigilantism, Dwight kills the man in a bathroom stall and heads to see his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves). Little does Dwight know that the killed man’s family doesn’t sit well with Dwight’s act of revenge and now Dwight, and Sam’s whole family, are targets of the Cleland clan.
Full of nail-biting suspense and a finale that’ll leave you breathless, Saulnier has concocted my favorite film of the festival so far. Full of plot twists and welcome doses of humor, everyone is at the top of their game for what could have been a minor blip of a film. Devin Ratray nearly steals the show as Dwight’s long-lost friend, but Blair more than carries the load and provides a true tour de force. Already acquired by Radius/TWC (The Weinstein Company) after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year, you’ll be able to catch this when it releases on April 25. A must see of the highest order.
Jim Mickle’s Cold in July is a film best shrouded in secrecy. It’s almost too bad it’s based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale from 1989. The story involves Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) who shoots a burglar in the middle of the night in East Texas 1989. Richard is told he did the right thing and that the perpetrator was named Freddy Russel. The next day, Sheriff Price (co-writer Nick Damici) informs Richard that Freddy’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) has just been released from prison. Soon enough, Ben comes prowling around and the two men learn that there are far more sinister things afoot, starting with the fact that Richard did not shoot Freddy and is still alive. Now, Richard and Ben join forces to figure out what’s really going on, calling upon the help of Jim Bob (Don Johnson), wallowing into a string of shocking events.
Mickle provides his usual slow-burn effect for about the first hour leading up to the union of Richard and Ben. From there, the twists keep piling up and you’ll never guess where things are headed, or where the road leads. Hall is fantastic as the working-class father in over his head, with Shepard providing a sinister portrayal of a vengeful father not scared to get blood on his hands. But it’s surprisingly Don Johnson who barges in to steal the show. Jim Bob is a larger-than-life character to be reckoned with, but Hall and Shepard manage to carry the weight right through to the bitter end. Another shocking masterpiece from Mickle should come as no surprise. He’s never done wrong switching gears from his zombie debut (Mulberry St.), to vampires (Stake Land), to cannibals (We Are What We Are), to revenge thriller. Cold in July is just another log on the fire that is Mickle’s career and it’s burning brighter than ever.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute