While Jeremy Saulnier was trying to come up with a follow-up to his acclaimed 2007 debut Murder Party – a horror comedy about a Halloween bash gone violently awry – he knew who he wanted as his star: Macon Blair. "There was this character who had been swirling around in my head for years," Saulnier recalls in an interview. "This sort of beach-bum guy, living in his car. It was always going to be Macon."
Saulnier did not have to go far to cast Blair – one of the writer-director's best friends, who also appeared in Murder Party – in his superb sophomore feature Blue Ruin, a twisty and twisted revenge thriller.
The ironic part, Saulnier says, is that he cast Blair because he thought the part would be ill-fitting: He wanted to exploit the tension between his pal's laid-back demeanour and the compulsive nature of the character, a drifter named Dwight who viciously avenges a past family tragedy and ends up hunted across Virginia by members of a rival clan.
"We had some negotiation early, and I told him that he was terrible [for the part]," Saulnier recalls with a laugh. "But that it was because it wasn't a traditional revenge-movie role. We realized that the whole point of the movie was that we had this unlikely protagonist, and there had to be a warmth and vulnerability to him. Once we [realized that], it basically wrote itself for Macon."
Blair does have star presence in Blue Ruin, but the film above all is a coming-out party for Saulnier, whose résumé until Murder Party included a few cinematography credits. At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Saulnier told the story of how he financed the film via a combination of maxed-out credit cards and an online Kickstarter campaign. But, where many personally financed movies end up wearing their raggedness as a badge of honour, Blue Ruin looks terrific (Saulnier shot it himself). Its vivid colour scheme and sneaky editing rhythms distinguish it from the majority of low-fi genre pieces. "We embraced our limitations and our lack of resources early on," Saulnier said. "All of our locations were [courtesy of] friends and family. We did the best with what we had. There were no surprises on-set."
That isn't entirely true: When Saulnier and his crew showed up to shoot the first scene, they were startled to discover that the advertised location didn't exist. "It was a fraud posted to Craigs-list," he said. "So we streamlined the sequence by necessity and it worked a lot better. We couldn't reschedule, or spend money on a new place, so we just went with the flow."
Blue Ruin is in theatres now.