When vagrant Dwight (Macon Blair), who spends his time scavenging for food in bins and sleeping on the beach, learns of the release of the man who murdered his parents, he takes it upon himself to seek revenge. Things spiral out of control, however, when he learns there’s more to his parent’s murder than meets the eye and he enters into a cat and mouse game with the family of the man he killed, putting his innocent sister and her family in danger as a result.

Peppered with startling images, even more startling bouts of violence and humour of the darkest order, director Jeremy Saulnier second directorial feature film (he previously made the horror comedy Murder Party) is a deft mix of many things and that concoction works very well indeed. In the wrong hands that throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach would come off as messy but skilled direction keeps the plot and the tension tightly wound throughout, with a palpable sense of foreboding and threat as it builds towards a suitably grissly conclusion.

Much of the film works because of Blair’s performance. He’s in pretty much every scene and thus he has to carry it squarely on his shoulders and he does so with aplomb, selling even the film’s most ridiculous moments as he goes from disheveled vagrant to clean-cut protector, albeit one still way out of his depth. It never falls into the trap of making Dwight a two-dimensional indestructible killing machine and Blair’s performance brings humanity to a harsh and uncompromising film.

It’s a film that can be enjoyed as a straight up revenge thriller with a gleefully dark sense of humour or one that looks at the effect such an endeavor can have on a damaged individual and at the age-old theme that violence merely begets more violence. Either way it’s a finely crafted piece of cinema, compelling from the outset and, thanks to its penchant for sudden bloody violence, constantly keeps you on your toes.

Schlocky as its set up and some of its more absurdly violent moments may suggest, the accomplished direction elevates this beyond cheap thrills and shocks. Evoking the work of the Coen bros. as well as the likes of Animal Kingdom, Snowtown and Kill List, Blue Ruin is a bold, brutal and tense film that won’t be soon forgotten and marks its director out as a talent to watch.

Blue Ruin is released in UK cinemas on May 2nd.