Theme of the Month: Revenge


Courtesy of Janus Films

By Braden Turk

Theme of the Month is an article series designed to investigate the best examples of film, television, and writing that fall under a certain category. These works explore the topic of revenge and how it can affect people in surprising ways.


“Blue Ruin”

Before Jeremy Saulnier made the tense, horror-thriller mix “Green Room” and the Netflix drama “Hold the Dark,” he first put himself on the independent scene with the twisty neo-noir “Blue Ruin.”

When the person responsible for his parents’ murders is released, homeless Dwight follows him into a bar and murders him. But the plot doesn’t stop there, as the killer’s family knows who is responsible and targets Dwight’s sister, it sets off a violent chain of events that all unfold in the name of revenge.

The story is straightforward and doesn’t attempt to be more than what it is, a decision that ultimately hones the audience into the film’s world and characters. Blue Ruin glides smoothly from scene to scene, jumping from Southern Gothic drama to crime thriller with ease.

I was quite surprised to learn that “Blue Ruin” was financed through Kickstarter, given its solid ambient score and professional camerawork. It’s a homespun film, with realistic locations, performances, and details crowding every frame. “Authentic” doesn’t even begin to describe it.


“Kuroneko” (“Black Cat”)

Two ghosts stalk the night, luring wandering samurai into their residence and then laying claim to their souls. Famed war hero Hachi is ordered to investigate, but finds that he has a more personal connection to the ghosts than he expected…

So is the eerie plot of Kuroneko, a 1968 film directed by Kaneto Shindo, the man responsible for other Japanese works like “Onibaba” and “The Naked Island.”

The atmosphere is pervasively dark and brooding — many of the movie’s scenes take place at night — and is beautifully rendered by cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda. The special effects are a bit dated (the ghosts are clearly hoisted up by ropes in fight scenes) but remain impressive as products of their time.

Kuroneko mainly serves as a tragedy, however, and the second act focuses on Hachi’s relationship with one of the ghosts. It’s here that some viewers, myself included, may think the film detracts from its initial purpose, but on further inspection, I’d argue this act contains the heart of the story.

“My mind was always on the commoners, not on the lords, politicians, or anyone of name or fame,” director Shindo said. “I wanted to convey the lives of down-to-earth people who have to live like weeds.”


“Nocturnal Animals”

The second and latest feature from fashion designer Tom Ford (whose “A Single Man” I previously covered in December) uses revenge less of a plot device than the entire point of the story, even if viewers don’t realize it until the credits roll.

It follows a split narrative between the real world and a fictitious story-within-a-story — the “Nocturnal Animals” of the title. The framing story is a bit less interesting than the fictitious one, although Adams’ performance makes it compelling enough. Like Ford’s previous film, though, the soundtrack and costume/set design are consistently fantastic across all fronts.

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Michael Shannon all bring considerable star power to the film. Taylor-Johnson is especially good, whose menacing performance is sure to send chills down the audience’s spines.

The first scene in the fictitious novel shows in detail a family being run off the road by a group of hecklers. Through a series of horrifying events, Tony’s family is forced into one of the roughnecks’ cars and driven away, never to be seen alive again. Tony, and the audience, are petrified during this moment and feel utterly powerless to stop what is going on. It’s a moment far scarier than the loud jumpscares most horror movies employ nowadays.

“A Single Man” was released in 2009 and “Nocturnal Animals” in 2016. Let’s just hope that Ford’s next film won’t take seven years to make… though I’m sure the wait will be worth it.