Category Archives: Movie Review

We Are Still Here (2015) – Raw Review

Anyone who enjoys small mystery, dark undercurrents and a shit-ton of gore will want to see We Are Still Here.


Set in the wintery fields of New England, a grieving couple purchase an old house that’s remained unoccupied for 30 years. A house that wakes up every 30 years to feed.

Filmmaker Ted Geoghegan has made a very good film here. A creepy and gore filled tale that has is extremely flavourful and engaging. What begins as a standard ghost story turns out to be a much darker and violent ride through the house’s history. There is a bit of set-up early on but the patience shown on the part of Geoghegan pays off in spades when the action kicks in.

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Exceptionally good performances by the veteran cast keep things interesting as the malevolent force works it’s way out of the shadows. It’s not surprising considering the amazing and genre savvy talent in the film. Barbara Crampton (You’re Next, Re-Animator, From Beyond), Andrew Sensenig (Upstream Color, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night), Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!, Tales of Halloween), and Larry Fessenden (Stake Land, I Sell the Dead, Jug Face).

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What did surprise me about the movie is how economical it turns out to be. There isn’t a lot of extraneous dialogue or overly long shots. Either it’s very tightly scripted or was edited with some skill, or both. While watching We Are Still Here my mind kept drifting back to It Follows. Not because of similarities in story, but because both films use tightly filmed stationary shots of the environment to full effect. In this film, Ted Geoghegan’s superior cinematography is used to wrap this small but devious tale inside a beautiful landscape. A landscape that contrasts sharply with the boiling hot viciousness lurking within the film’s main location.

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Don’t go thinking this is a slow, boring ghost story. We Are Still Here packs a violent, blood and guts punch. Coupled with some really well handled visual effects, the gore does a fabulous job of relating just how horrible and cosmic the antagonistic force is, and what it is prepared to do to the souls who dare enter its house.

Highly recommended.

Krampus (2015) – Raw Review

Now that Halloween is in the rear-view mirror, the number of legitimate horror films traditionally take a nose-dive in favor of holiday blockbusters of various genres. Thanksgiving and Christmas films have generally favored heartwarming family fare, or PG-13 action-driven adventures. And although holiday  horror lovers have occasionally been thrown a bone or two (pun intended) in the form of killer turkeys (Thankskilling, 2009) or holiday-themed slashers (Black Christmas, twice, 1974 and 2006; Silent Night, Deadly Night, 1984; Slayride, 2016), the fables and mythologies behind our end-of-year celebration has received little attention, particularly from the standpoint of budgetary consideration.

Until this year.

This Christmas season viewers have been… er, treated… to not one but two newly-released films centering on a very old, primarily European mythology that has several variants but targets Krampus, an evil counterpart to Santa Claus who punishes naughty children during the Christmas season.  Depending on your source of information, the origin of Krampus dates back long before Christ was attached to “mas.” Some experts on European fables cite Norse legends; others say this child-stealer comes from Teutonic folklore, and indeed, parades honoring Krampus are a big deal in Austria. Search YouTube for the Krampus celebration in Graz, Austria, and find the current celebration full of terrifying costumes that are very consistent and similar in their depiction. Other stories handed down through generations reveal Krampus to be the brother of Saint Nicholas, sometimes known as Black Peter in Denmark, who came into being when the dualism of the Catholic Church took hold in both Eastern and Western orthodoxies.

Very few films have dealt with this wealth of background information. In 2010, Netherlands director Dick Maas brought Sint (Saint) to the US, a mashup of mythological characterizations in which Saint Nicholas manifests on Krampus Day (December 5) if there is a full moon, to punish, steal, and/or kill children who haven’t been nice. Saint is a reasonably entertaining horror film, full of action, blood, and guts, although it is muddled in the telling. By far the best European import of this type to date is Rare Exports (Finland, 2010), wherein a small group of families on the Russian border, find the actual Santa Claus (buried? sleeping?) in the Korvatunturi  mountains, and this version of Santa doesn’t toast them with a grin and a bottle of Coca-Cola. The Finns capture him/it, put him/it in a cage in a misguided attempt to make money for the struggling local economy, and then suffer his/its wrath when a multitude of Black Peter acolytes attack the people in a rather harrowing rescue attempt. A fine, exciting genre film with a child’s sense of wonder, Rare Exports is yet another story that plays a bit fast and loose with the traditional dichotomy of Krampus and Saint Nicholas.

Writer/Director Michael Dougherty, seemingly joined at the hip with director Bryan Singer (X-Men 2, 2003; Superman Returns, 2006; the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016) established himself as an excellent purveyor of holiday horror with the now-cult classic Trick ‘r Treat (2007), a set of connected Halloween tales that introduced Sam Hain, a creepy child-like figure wearing a gunny-sack over his head.

 ** WARNING!  Possible spoilers from this point! **

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In Dougherty’s new production, the incarnation of Krampus follows a mix of original traditions including a very strong fairy tale vibe. Krampus arrives on the scene after young Max (Emjay Anthony) tears up his Christmas letter to Santa Clause in a fit of rage and frustration brought about from bickering and lack of holiday spirit in his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette). When equally-dysfunctional familial relations descend on the already-troubled family, the stage is set for both black comedy and eventual horror. Although Dougherty’s opening fifteen minutes conjures up strong similarities to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (including Conchata Ferrell in the role of sour, sarcastic Aunt Dorothy while channeling Berta from Two and a Half Men), he invests each character with a compassionate, loving core that shines through now and then. When Krampus finally arrives, the peril encompasses not only children but adults as well, and their argumentative and contentious natures are supplanted by strong emotional bonding. Viewers come to root for the families. This is not a film that follows a linear slasher, one death after another, story format.


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Production design and set decoration by veterans Jules Cook and Daniel Birt, respectively, is absolutely stunning. From the arrival of a massive blizzard that takes out neighborhood power, to the appearance of twisted, nasty-looking snowmen that multiply in front of the protagonist’s home, viewers are taken into an entirely different dimension. Krampus himself is doled out sparingly, with shadowy images of something jumping across neighborhood rooftops, to gigantic cloven hooves stomping through the snow-covered streets. It’s an intense, highly suspenseful tactic. Viewers looking for standard plotting tropes will be pleasantly surprised to find very few. Dougherty inserts a few twists that keep the action and mystery running at top speed. Special effects are numerous, mixing very good CGI where necessary with some excellent practical puppetry. Every effect from creature design to matte painting and more is supplied by a group of New Zealand-based companies headed by the well-known Weta Digital. There is a decent budget for this film, and it shows.

The most recent issue of Rue Morgue Magazine (December, #162) features cover art, production snapshots, and an interview with Dougherty in which he discusses his motivation and rationale for this film. Most of us already know that Michael Dougherty can write and direct appealing horror films – and for this reason, I am willing to forgive him for Superman Returns – but with Krampus, he’s set a higher bar for himself. Trick ‘r Treat 2 has been announced, which is indeed good news. But I would like to see Dougherty continue with solid one-offs. He has a talent and imagination that should not be confined to franchise film production.

Stung (2015) – Raw Review

There is an understandable reluctance to give much print space to low-budget genre films, mainly due to the similarity of subject matter that inundates various forms of visual media. Zombies, vampires, slasher/torture porn, and found footage evil are themes that dominate the market, and act to dull viewer sensibilities to the point where new titles are generally avoided rather than sampled. The category dealing with large monsters/critters is particularly susceptible to cut-and-paste storylines using bad CGI (examples abound, but for the sake of verisimilitude, see any title involving a sharktopus, or a whalewolf, or a megapirahna). It takes a bit of skill, but mostly just dumb luck, to find a film of this type that makes even a token attempt to present a decent screenplay, good acting, competent directing, and professional production values. Fortunately, a new German-US film, Stung, which just popped up on Netflix streaming along with DVD and Blu-ray release, meets most of those criteria.

Stung grabbed this viewer immediately with a nicely-shot pre-credit scene that follows a bumblebee as it meanders lazily over a beautiful, bucolic countryside. Ho-hum, you say, another killer bee film. Nope. Following the bee is a sinister black insect that attacks its prey in mid-air, driving both to the ground, where a nasty, retractable stinger dispatches the peaceful bumble. We are talking killer wasps here. But it gets even better. There are BIG killer wasps in the immediate future.

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The single setting for the film is an isolated summer mansion where the wealthy owners are throwing an outdoor celebration of… something or other. This kind of detail is really unimportant in an extremely simple story. Our protagonists are Julia and Paul, two young entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep her catering business afloat. Julia, in a fine, emotive performance by Jessica Cook in her first feature film, is a focused, frightened young woman who wants to make a good impression on her customers, and is oblivious to her mumbling, moon-struck helper/bartender Paul, played by veteran actor Matt O’Leary (Frailty, 2001; Brick, 2005). They arrive at the mansion, begin the outdoor setup, and a horde of wasps erupt from an underground nest. Chaos ensues. But the extra added attraction is that the wasps lay eggs in their hosts that grow into gigantic flying monsters complete with host characteristics. Thus, human wasps, dog wasps, and even bovine wasps. The beasties are presented in quite competent CGI forms, mostly when flying, and in excellent practical animatronics when on the ground. And that is the entire 82-minute (plus credits) film. It ain’t major award material by any means, but neither is it remotely akin to a sharktopus.


What is most interesting to this reviewer, however, is that Stung is the offspring of rookies. Adam Aresty’s script is his first screen credit; while the story is linear and simplistic, the dialog is sharp, occasionally funny, and surprisingly emotional. Director Benni Diez does a very competent job in his first feature film. The fine photography and scene composition by Stephen Burchardt is the sophomore effort after a TV movie (sf/thriller Killing All the Flies, 2013). Acting is confined to four major characters, all of whom are fine to acceptable. And it appeared to this reviewer that the director allowed some ad-libbing by O’Leary and supporting cast member Lance Henriksen (genre credits too numerous to mention).

As a complete package, Stung turned out to be a very entertaining little genre film, never pretending to be something it’s not. The effort by all of the creative people listed above is greatly appreciated by those of us who fondly remember the low-budget, black-and-white Big Bug films of yesteryear. There is still some life in this old trope.

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The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) – Blu-ray Review

Several of the black-and-white Big Critter films of the 1950s have received recent blu-ray releases that may or may not be a marked improvement on the original print but certainly cost more than a standard DVD release. Titles include, but are not limited to, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, and this particular little gem starring a beefy former western star, Tim Holt, along with veteran actors Audrey Dalton and Hans Conried (of the Fractured Flickers segment of Rocky and Bullwinkle TV series).

Rather than true horror, this film should be classified as science fiction since it deals with the tried-and-true 50s theme of genetic mutation from radioactive material. In this case, the beastie(s) in question are mutated molluscs living in the Salton Sea. Although the title is more than a little hyperbolic (original title, The Kraken, was shelved), the storyline offers the possibility of a wide-spread infestation of the monsters through prolific egg-laying coupled with the inability of human ingenuity to come up with a way to contain them.

The movie benefits from a number of positive aspects. The screenplay is written by David Duncan, who went on to write scripts for big-budget productions such as The Time Machine (1960), Fantastic Voyage (1966), and many TV series. The actors take their roles quite seriously and professionally. The location filming at Catalina Island, the Salton Sea, and other California sites features crisp, clear cinematography. And the special effects are practical, including a life-sized monster that towers over its human prey.
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The quality of this first blu-ray release is not much better than other standard DVD recordings, if at all. Feature-wise, the disk is almost bare-bones, but does contain an informative commentary track by genre film historian, Tom Weaver. The age of the film (and others) does nothing to reduce the price point. It’s ultimately up to the viewer/collector to determine if this purchase is necessary. But the movie itself is worth collecting in any format. It’s one of the best of its kind.

Dead Girl (2008) – Raw Review

Necrophilia Was Never So Disturbing.

So what would you do if you found a sexy, naked, dead woman chained to a bed in the basement of an abandoned mental hospital?

Seriously, what would you do? She looks alive but isn’t. Does that mean the normal rules of law and order, not to mention morality, don’t apply to your actions?

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Well this is the premise the audience is presented with in this film. You could argue that it glorifies rape, bondage, and sociopathic behavior in young people; or you could just watch the movie for its entertainment value. The movie is definitely graphic and disturbing at times. Not as disturbing as Human Centipede but close enough. Don’t get too wrapped up in analyzing this film, just enjoy it for what it is – a horror movie with an incredibly original idea and great execution.Dead Girl, zombie, zombies, horror, horror movie, thriller, monster, sexy, nudity, necrophilia, disturbing, movie review, raw movie review

No One Lives (2013) – Raw Review

A lot of movies toy with the idea of evil being the good guy, or at very least the sympathetic protagonist. In many cases this premise is subverted and what starts out as the evil turns out really to be good, the good then becoming evil, etc.  No One Lives looks as if it’s headed in that direction until it abruptly doesn’t. A slick and polished slasher film, No One Lives decides to play, what might otherwise be a subversive anti-hero trope, as a serious evil vs evil duel of sorts. It works well when done correctly.
The story follows a ‘rich’ couple, played by Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey, who are relocating for an undisclosed reason. There is something different about them right from the get go, something eerie and undefined. Next we meet a group of highwaymen who are certainly the type of people your momma warned you about. Thieves, killers, lawbreakers, you name it. Lead by Lee Tergesen the group cross paths with our rich couple. Predictably the loose cannon of the group decides to waylay the couple and from there things begin to get good. As mentioned above, convention typically dictates that even if your protagonist isn’t a ‘good guy’ in a traditional sense they should still be empathetic or audiences won’t care about their struggle, conflict, or outcome. The one exception to this? Make your protagonist The Unfettered.
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An extremely version of the anti-hero, the Unfettered has no limitations, no boundaries, no inconvenient moral code, no scruples. They are unique in their focus on a specific goal or outcome. They care not for the ripple effect their actions cause to others or society at large. They may have emotions but don’t expect those to get in the way of their objective. Ruthless and cunning (assuming they are smart), devoted to to the end game, and completely immune to bargaining, reason, pity, remorse, fear, you name it. Sound scary? Absolutely.
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So when our protagonist decides these less than reputable people have made a mess of his grand plans, well… all hell breaks loose. We try to avoid spoilers here so I’m not going to get into any more specifics. Just know that this movie takes a bad guy vs bad guys plotline to the extreme. Uber violent, super bloody, over the top gory on a couple occasions, and unrelenting make it very hardcore film indeed. All that aside, it’s more an action movie than a horror film. Think Taken mashed with Friday the 13th. Can you imagine Liam Neeson on screen gutting a body, dropping arms and legs into a wood-chipper, slicing off a woman’s face while smiling? You can? You’re a sicko who will probably really enjoy this film.
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No One Lives is a fun gore-ride through vendetta turned sport. Luke Evans is fantastic from beginning to end. His counterparts, the beautiful Adelaide Clemens and creepy-ass Derek Magyar, are also dazzling throughout. If rampage or vengeance movies are your thing and you don’t mind a lot of onscreen murder then you won’t want to miss this one.

Cooties (2015) – Raw Review

Cooties is a pretty run-of-the-mill zom-com. As an action horror it’s decent, yet unremarkable. As a horror movie it’s violent and gory, yet unremarkable. As a comedy it provides a lot of laughs, a few chuckles, and yet is unremarkable.


The premise is simple – tainted chicken nugget turns kid into a zombie of sorts, from there is spreads to other kids, and so forth. The film never really classifies it’s feral children as zombies. They start more as crazed infected until hair and body parts start dropping off. They are fast moving, intelligent, able to hunt, and dangerous. Always finding ways around the teacher’s tricks and traps. If you’re looking for more traditional zombie fair you might be disappointed, but for what the movie is trying to do, non-traditional works just fine.

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The main downside to the film is the canned storyline and underdeveloped characters. Elijah Wood and Amy Pill provide some good chemistry against the over-the-top shenanigans of Rainn Wilson, creating a funny if not completely ridiculous love triangle. Wilson plays the douche bag gym teacher to perfection, landing just about every one liner he’s given. Unfortunately even a great Rainn Wilson can’t hold up the film on his own. A always hilarious Jack McBrayer is woefully underutilized and Jorge Garcia’s role is almost non-existent, except to trip-out and be available when necessary.

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Adam Sandler has proven time and again that you don’t need a story or interesting characters to draw millions of people to the theatre. All you need is witty banter and a bunch of people not getting along. Cooties banks on this concept but makes the wise decision to dress the film in campy horror. A splash of gore, a few dismembered bodies, and just a touch of the apocalypse. It’s the horror that makes the movie better than it should be. Not a lot better, but fun and watchable.

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There are some genuinely awesome moments in this movie. The best involving a distracted mother, an SUV, a baby in a car seat, and an infected boy being picked up from school. First time directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion do a good job with this movie. It’s well directed and well filmed. The comedic beats are handled well enough to get the laughs, but the story beats feel like old hat a lot of the time. Had the movie been more comedic, or conversely more horrific, then it might have been a homerun. As it stands Cooties is an enjoyable film that most people will find palatable for a popcorn horror showing.  


Sicario (2015) – Raw Review

Sicario is as dark and terrifying as any film you will see this year, proving that sometimes the best horror movies aren’t horror at all.

This review isn’t going to attempt to question or deconstruct the political and social tones associated with the U.S./Mexico relationship. This is a movie review, not an op-ed on U.S. drug policy, economic relations, or immigration. That caveat in place, Sacario is a movie unlike any other we’ve received from the big-budget Hollywood machine in quite awhile. Listed as actor Taylor Sheridan’s (Sons of Anarchy) first writing credit, Sicario is not a horror movie, but only because it’s based in a world that exists. A world is right next door.  

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Emily Blunt plays an idealistic FBI agent who’s brought in to work a special task force dealing with the Mexican drug cartels. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that just as the Cartels don’t play by the rules of law, American assets don’t always play by the rules either. Along with Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, the cast is a powerhouse. If Oscar buzz isn’t already intensifying it won’t be long till it does.

From the first minute of the film to the last we are exposed to a world where humans dwell, yet humanity has been forgotten. The sheer brutality and graphic nature of the story might be considered hyperbolic if the subject matter wasn’t taken directly from real life. All it takes is a perusal of sites such as Blog del Narco and Wikileaks to see what both the Mexican Cartels and U.S. government are capable of, and while the brutality and inhumanity portrayed in Sicario may be a concentrated dose of the worst aspects of the drug war, the film is grounded in enough realism to be entirely plausible.

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Director Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films include Prisoners and Enemy, does a masterful job using long cinematic shots in conjunction with sharp direct close-ups to throw us deep into the dangers faced by his cast. The American Southwest is presented as a stage upon which a war is raging on both sides of the border. Combined with Johann Johannsson’s amazing score, Sicario establishes a suffocating intensity to every scene. In an article on Noisey by Joseph Yanick, composer Johannsson is quoted as saying:

I wanted to create music that had an underlying tension and a sense of coming from below the earth, like a throbbing pulse that resonates from underground or the pounding heartbeat of a wild beast that is charging at you. I also wanted to evoke the sadness and melancholy of the border, the border fences and the tragedy of the drug war.

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In many ways Sicario is reminiscent of films like It Follows, Gravity, and Mad Max: Fury Road. The score doesn’t just add background music, it’s an additional member of the cast, giving a powerful and pivotal performance that makes a great film even better.

Sicario is the dark, visceral horror crime-drama we’ve waited and hoped for all year. Take an opportunity and see this film. It shows what the perfect arrangement of writer, director and composer can accomplish in Hollywood.

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Insectula (2015) – Raw Review

Insectula! is the first film from writer/director Mike Peterson. Intended to be a parody/satire of 1950s/60s monster movies, it’s campiness and extremely low-budget spectacle is sure draw a large cult following.


Monster movies from the 50s/60s are very popular. At a time when the Cold War was in full swing and atomic energy new and mystical, filmmakers let their imagination run wild on screen. By today’s standards most of these films come across as silly, campy, hoaky, and over the top. What were cutting edge effects back in the day are now reserved for micro-budget and homemade movies. Dramatic scores were also a staple of the genre, often overshadowing the movie itself in scope and quality.

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Insectula! tries very hard to pay homage to these movie of yesterday while at the same time exaggerating their inherent silliness. The movie is a mash between Roger Corman, Ed Wood and John Waters. Leaning heavily on it’s dramatic musical score and hamed up acting from the first scene to the last.


The premise revolves around a giant alien that crashes to Earth in search of food. It quickly draws the attentions of an EPA Agent, whose girlfriends keep getting eaten by the monster, and a mad scientist who sees the monster as an opportunity to destroy the world.


The concept is fantastic. The drawback is that the film takes almost an hour to actually get to the monster stomping around and destroying anything. The first two thirds of the movie are dedicated to establishing and satirizing backstory for the main characters, but the narrative often wanders off into the weeds losing itself along the way. There are laughs to be had and the general wackiness of the endeavor is enough to make you giggle at times but the film breaks the cardinal rule of storytelling – every scene, whether serious or silly, needs to move the story forward. The first two thirds of the film could probably be shaved down considerably to expedite the narrative without losing the satirical feel.

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Insectula! tries too hard to make what is already an awkward and campy genre even more exaggerated. The acting is intentionally overdramatized to simulate the Corman era style and the score (while pretty darn good) is at the forefront for just about the entire movie. There are only a few scenes in which the music backs-off. A style choice for sure but I think it takes away from the film rather than adding to it.


The charm of the atomic era monster movies is that time has shaped the popular perception of the genre. Back in the day, monster movies may not have been seen as high level art but the filmmakers for the most part (Ed Wood excepted) tried to make serious and scary movies. Today the context under which the films were made is different making them come across to modern viewers as campy and fun rather than dramatic and scary. Had Insectula! dialed it down a notch and tried to make a semi-serious movie as opposed to a forced satire, the micro-budget special effects, cheese-ball acting and subject matter most likely would have created an end product much like what Insectula! was going for.


As a fan of early monster movies I completely understand what Insectula! is trying to do and I think it’s on the right track, just executed a little off the mark. I give writer/director Mike Peterson a lot of credit for getting this film produced and into the mainstream. Insectula! is clearly a labor of love and Peterson has a lot of talent and ingenuity. Trying to make a film with this kind of scope on a micro-budget is beyond difficult and while the movie itself may have missed the mark in a number of areas I’m sure it will gain a cult following as word of mouth spreads.

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Blue Ruin (2013) – Raw Review

Good but slow. Thats how everyone described Blue Ruin to me. Good but slow. Bullshit. The movie isn’t slow. Deliberate. Methodical. Unforgiving. That’s Blue Ruin.


Trimmed to the bone, Blue Ruin is a revenge story as raw as they come. A modern parable about holding hatred close, yet handled with a narrow focus and a razor sharp edge. The film follows a man named Dwight Evans (played by Macon Blair), a vagrant who quietly exists in New England, scavenging out an existance day-to-day. Quiet, unassuming yet morally imperfect, Dwight is an enigma to us, until he learns of the imminent release of the man who wronged him so many years before. This revelation sets Dwight on a collision course with his past, a very violent collision course.


I had the opportunity to watch Blue Ruin blind. Netflix has had it on streaming for awhile now and as usual the summary card doesn’t really provide an accurate idea of what the films about. Usually this is a problem because it warns off movies that might otherwise be decent, save the shitty descriptor. In the case of Blue Ruin, and hindsight is always twenty-twenty, it worked out in my favor. Had I known the story before seeing the film I definitely would have enjoyed the film, but seeing it completely blind made the entire experience that much more powerful.

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I know I usually gush about the movies I watch, and let’s face it, who has time to write reviews of all the crap movies. In the case of Blue Ruin not only am I going to gush but I’ll go as far as saying this is my new favorite movie of the year. The fact that the film was funded via kickstarter is impressive itself, but on a budget of $420k writer/director Jeremy Saulnier is able to produce more emotion and vicera than many of the tentpole movies working with hundreds of millions.

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Blue Ruin is a powerful film. Saulnier’s screenplay primarily relies on action and location. It’s tightly filmed with very little flash cutting. We see the word through Dwight’s perspective as he moves from place to place, making mistakes, barely surviving, recomposing and ultimately accepting the finality of the situation he’s place himself into. Placing myself in Dwight’s shoes wasn’t difficult. I found myself questioning if I’d take the same course of action were I in his place. A feeling of empathy that drew me into the movie, yet made my stomach turn at the choices he chooses and in turn is forced to make.


A sharp edgy film that capitalizes on efficient use of tension, violence and dialogue. Blue Ruin isn’t slow, it just knows exactly what it’s doing from fade in to fade out. Highly recommended.

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