This year’s Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival wound down Thursday following a week of audience-favored reprises, but you can catch up with one of its most popular titles on demand.
“Blue Ruin,” newly available on iTunes, et al., has jolted viewers at Cannes and Sundance, as well. Set in Virginia, it’s a gory low-budget revenge thriller that takes its stylistic cues from the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple” and its basic twist on the genre from, of all things, the original “Die Hard,” which discovered that a vulnerable protagonist who steps barefoot on broken glass and such can up the ante on suspense and pathos alike.
As played by lanky newcomer Macon Blair, the film’s mild-mannered and shaggy Dwight Evans appears the opposite of a trained assassin — scavenging food from garbage cans, breaking into houses for the occasional shower and sleeping in a rusty blue Bonneville.
Scarce dialogue eventually reveals that Dwight’s mortal enemy is due for release from prison, prompting our equally resourceful and clumsy antihero to steal a handgun and then struggle in vain to wrest it loose from a pesky lock. Suffice to say Dwight finds a simpler weapon and makes use of it in spectacularly messy fashion.
No less scrappy, indie writer/director Jeremy Saulnier shot the film himself in lush widescreen, lending a discomfiting pizazz to the grungy backwoods locations and gruesome proceedings. His prime asset is Blair, a childhood pal with whom he used to watch ’80s action blockbusters and make amateur homages in Super 8.
Saulnier’s leading man will never be mistaken for Bruce Willis, but the actor’s huge brown eyes are as soulful as Victor Mature’s, and his impersonation of a man with an arrow in his thigh is, well, one for the ages.
Also new to VOD
Another MSPIFF thriller, “The Sacrament,” hits VOD on Thursday, a full month before the film’s release to theaters.
At a Q&A session after the festival screening, visiting writer/director Ti West — whose “The House of the Devil” stands among the most accomplished horror movies of recent years — admitted to a full-on obsession with the so-called Jonestown massacre of 1978, in which more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple poisoned themselves to death on orders from religious leader Jim Jones.
A mock documentary making use of “found footage,” “The Sacrament” attests further to West’s membership in the cult of Jonestown history, from the tiniest details of cyanide consumption to the towering performance of Gene Jones (no relation) as the creepy Father. Apparently, the filmmaker’s fetishistic fictionalization has its own persuasive power, as one MSPIFF viewer piped up with a question indicating he thought the movie was real. Can you believe that?
Infinitely cheerier is “When Jews Were Funny,” which won an audience award at MSPIFF and is now on Netflix. Interviewing veteran comedians from Shecky Greene to Shelley Berman, Canadian documentarian Alan Zweig (“Vinyl,” “I, Curmudgeon”) has infectious fun with the question of what makes Jewish humor unique, as well as what endangers its survival — which is funny, too.