Mumblegore is a relatively new term that has blossomed with the low budget, yet character-driven, indie horror films that have been released in the past decade. It was born out of the Mumblecore genre, introduced in 2002 with films such as Funny HA HA (2002) by Andrew Bujalski and Puffy Chair (2005) by the Duplass Brothers.
Mumblegore takes that genre into the realm of horror, with films such as You’re Next (2011), The Sacrament (2013), and V/H/S (2012) as prime examples. Due to lower budgets and almost no studio pressure, these films are much more experimental. A few directors and writers have been credited with the birth and rise of this strange subgenre. Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S), Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), and Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) are just a few of the people working to create strange yet terrifying stories that push the boundaries of horror.
I want to expand the definition, which is my goal with this column. I will try to venture outside of those well-known directors and scour the corners of the Internet to expand the idea of mumblegore.
“ […] Blue Ruin exemplifies how mumblegore can take existing subgenres and make them feel fresh and unique.”
Tales of revenge are often blood-filled sagas meant to deliver the characters, and the audience, with some sort of catharsis, a release that even in this fictional world, justice has been delivered. However, Jeremy Saulnier’s (Green Room) Blue Ruin (2013) works against the typical revenge narrative, creating a film that is quiet, contemplative, but still violent. From its sparse dialogue to quick spurts of gore, Blue Ruin exemplifies how mumblegore can take existing subgenres and make them feel fresh and unique.
Blue Ruin’s avenger is Dwight (Macon Blair, Green Room), a man living out of his car on the beaches of Delaware. He is avoiding his past, one where his parents were violently murdered. However, when he learns that the killer is finally out of prison, he decides to head home to rural Virginia and enact the vengeance he so desperately craves.
Importantly, Dwight is just a regular guy. He does not have secret hitman training or any expertise in shooting guns. Blue Ruin is not a spectacle of impressive kills, but an examination of what revenge looks like in the Everyman. Each of his acts of violence is ill-conceived and done impulsively; he is driven purely by anger with no real plan or idea of how it’s all going to turn out. This is what makes Blue Ruin feel so real. There is no fantastical revenge plot; it’s just a very sad man trying to reconcile what happened to his parents.
Revenge films often come with a lot of exposition, setting the audience up to empathize with the protagonist as they commit murder. In Blue Ruin, however, information is relayed through silent glances and tear-filled stares. The story is pieced together through a series of conversations that happen sporadically throughout the film. There is no long conversation or flashback that details every moment of Dwight’s parents’ murder or the life Dwight once had. The focus isn’t the past, but on how the past is being handled in the present by those left behind to pick up the pieces.
Accompanying these moments of silence are shots of Dwight’s surroundings, whether they are the bustling boardwalk of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or the misty mountain roads of Virginia. These are spaces that hold deep meaning for Dwight. They are steeped in memory and the camera so effectively relays that. Long shots capture the sounds of joy echoing from arcades and carnival rides. Bright lights flash to capture that excitement of a night at the boardwalk. But in this joy sits a deep melancholy, a memory of happier times when Dwight’s parents were alive. Every location in Blue Ruin holds significance to Dwight and they are shot as such. Everything feels so purposeful and full of personal meaning for our protagonist.
“ […] Blue Ruin still has moments of shocking and, yes, satisfying moments of violence in a way only [Jeremy] Saulnier can deliver.”
The emotional core of Blue Ruin lies within Blair, who embodies the heavy sadness and exhaustion of Dwight. Blair feels like he is Dwight as his physicality and facial expressions so beautifully convey the inner turmoil of Dwight. In his performance, he creates tension in how the audience feels about Dwight. On the one hand, we see him as sympathetic, suffering from sadness, but on the other, we see him as someone who has avoided his problems and is finally addressing them in the wrong way. Dwight is not perfect, but that’s what makes him so real. He fumbles through life trying to figure out the right thing to do just like the rest of us. There is no elaborate plan or scheme; there is only his anger that pushes him forward.
Yet, Blue Ruin still has moments of shocking and, yes, satisfying moments of violence in a way only Saulnier can deliver. Faces are shot off, necks are stabbed, and all of it feels earned. Blue Ruin builds and builds tension, then cuts through it with a quick moment full of blood and catharsis. It is violence that feels purposeful and meant to truly shock the audience with its sudden appearance as it distorts the stillness of the film. Saulnier makes each gory moment count for something significant. These are not just quick deaths we can quickly forget about. They are not massive set pieces cobbled together on green screens and set to a dramatic orchestral score. Instead, these are deaths that are meant to sit in your mind and percolate.
If you want to understand how mumblegore films can be truly haunting, Blue Ruin is the place to start. It is a film that grabbed my heart from its first few seconds and held me tight until the credits started to roll. It is devastating but there is beauty to be found in the wake of that devastation. This is a film that wishes to create thought-provoking and truly shocking violence. So often it feels as if we are numbed to violence as action films are nonstop shooting, punching, running, and fighting. But Dwight isn’t a fighter. He’s a sad, silent man who just wants to be rid of his grief. This is a film about fury, confusion, revenge, and the grieving process. Blue Ruin is not the film to see if you want a fantastical cathartic experience; instead, it is the film to see if you want to be deeply moved and upset by the consequences of violence.
Have you seen Blue Ruin? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!