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 trash cans of the boardwalk and his crime is limited to breaking and entering 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 to Virginia to confront the killer, and his family.
Saulnier, who has greater experience as a cinematographer, shoots the eerie back roads of Virginia in a manner that accentuates Dwight’s foggy mental state. He seems almost enveloped by the return to his childhood home. Despite the haunting, dreamlike feel of the picture, Saulnier does not glamorize the violence, which is up close and personal. People panic, they miss their mark, they make unbelievably stupid mistakes, and they say things under duress that people under duress say.
Similarly, the actors are true. Blair near carries the entire film (in a fair and just world, he’d be an Academy Award nominee). His Dwight is pitiable but seemingly insulated by the fog of his drifter life. When he is jerked back to grim reality, he presents a dawning, not only as to the depth of his anger but as to the import of his actions. As his sister, Amy Hargreaves, in a single scene, communicates her hatred of those who killed her parents but also the ambivalence she feels at the resurfacing of her troubled brother. It’s as if she worked for years to form a scab which is ripped off the moment her brother 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 realize this is a clusterfuck from the word go.
Eve Plumb (of The Brady Bunch) also 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.