In the vein of Carl Franklin’s One False Move, writer director Jeremy Saulnier has produced a moody, taut and earthy thriller that bleeds authenticity. Dwight (Macon Blair) is a seemingly harmless, homeless drifter who haunts a beach town in Delaware. He eats out of the boardwalk trash cans and his crimes are petty (he breaks and enters not to steal, but to take hot baths while the homeowners are away). Dwight is well known to the authorities, one of whom takes him aside and lets him know the killer of his parents has been released from prison in Virginia. This revelation sets in motion a chain of events that brings Dwight back home to confront the killer, and his family.
Saulnier shoots the eerie back roads of Virginia in a manner that accentuates Dwight’s foggy mental state. He seems almost enveloped by a mist of doom upon returning to his childhood home. Despite the haunting, dreamlike feel of the picture, Saulnier does not glamorize the violence, which is up-close, personal and jarring. People panic, they miss their mark, they make unbelievably stupid mistakes, and they say things under duress that people under duress actually say.
The actors are true. Blair near carries the entire film (in a fair and just world, he’d be an Academy Award nominee). We meet him insulated by the cloud of his drifter life. When he is jerked back to grim reality, we see the dawning, and the depth of the anger he has been suppressing. When he reunites with his sister (Amy Hargreaves), the familial anger is obviously shared, but we pointedly feel her ambivalence upon the return of her troubled brother. It’s as if she worked for years to form a scab which is ripped off the moment Dwight arrives.
Saulnier’s storytelling is such that you credibly piece together the events that led to Dwight’s fresh hell, and there is no predictable satisfaction from extraction of his revenge. Instead, both he and the audience come to realize this is a slow-moving clusterfuck of a car crash from the word go.
If none of this floats your boat, I have one more pitch: Eve Plumb (of The Brady Bunch) makes an unexpected, terrifying appearance.
One of the better pictures of the year, a deserved 96% on rottentomatoes, available streaming on Netflix and all the more impressive when you know it was done for $425,000.