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Spur-of-the-moment actions speak louder than carefully chosen words in Jeremy Saulnier’s impeccably crafted second feature.

Indeed, when the bedraggled hero of Blue Ruin is finally put on the spot and forced to justify his actions, he apologises for his poor articulation and squirms, marinading in the sweat of his mounting discomfort.

Blue Ruins

Blue Ruins

From its striking opening shot of a man languishing in a bath, Saulnier’s revenge thriller establishes a deceptively slow and steady pace that belies the nerve-shredding tension beneath the surface.

Once the first drop of blood is spilt - and it’s a stomach-churning spray of glossy claret - we’re completely in the writer-director’s vice-like grip, unable to take our eyes from the screen as his tense game of cat and mouse reaches its shocking yet emotionally satisfying denouement.

The lean 90-minute running time is perfectly judged - any longer and our nails would be gnawed down to the cuticle.

Macon Blair delivers a riveting central performance as homeless drifter Dwight, who lives in a rusted blue Pontiac parked down by the beach. He scrounges for scraps of discarded food in dumpsters and occasionally breaks into vacant homes to savour a splash of hot running water.

One unremarkable morning, Dwight is shepherded into the local police station where Officer Eddy (Sidne Anderson) delivers some dire news. “He’s going to be released,” she says solemnly.

It transpires that Will Cleland (David W Thompson), the man who is serving time for murdering Dwight’s parents, is poised to re-emerge into the outside world. Eddy’s revelation shakes Dwight out of his self-pitying fug. He tidies his appearance and drives back to West Virginia to wait nervously outside the prison and watch as Will emerges from incarceration into the care of his mother Kris (Eve Plumb).

Dwight’s quest to dole out what he perceives as justice to Will and his hillbilly brethren imperils Dwight’s estranged sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her two children.

Thankfully, old school pal Ben (Devin Ratray) has a stash of firearms and some pithy words of wisdom about killing in cold blood.

“No big speeches,” he advises. “You point the gun, you shoot the gun.”

Anchored by a tour-de-force central performance by Blair, whose mournful stare instantly curries our sympathy, Blue Ruin breathes new life into a well-worn genre. Flashes of macabre humour, reminiscent of the early Coen brothers, allow us to pause for sharp intakes of breath between meticulously staged set pieces.

Saulnier makes every cent of his one million dollar budget count including some horribly convincing make-up effects as Dwight incurs life-threatening wounds that could derail his twisted crusade. Our wincing is nothing compared to his screams of on-screen anguish.