by Ken Bakely
Perhaps the title of this film is a sentiment we all feel from time to time. Despite the unrestrained chaos which emerges around her, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), the protagonist of Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, simply wants people to be kinder to one another. She is a mild-mannered assistant at a nursing home, dealing with an anxiety disorder. On a particularly hectic day, which begins with her having to conceal to a grieving family that their loved one’s last words were a racist rant and concludes with her home being robbed by individuals unknown, Ruth decides that she has had enough.
Frustrated by the slowness of the police investigation, she enlists an awkward, hot-headed, nunchuck wielding neighbor named Tony (Elijah Wood) to help her track down her stolen belongings. A bizarre breadcrumb trail emerges, which takes them to a shady backlot market to a much more nefarious group of outcasts armed with ad hoc firepower and a beat-up van. Soon, it’s less a quest to retrieve some stuff and more of a prying path of self-discovery. It becomes stranger, deeper, and gorier with each new development.
Blair is best known among movie fans for his role in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, a violent, gritty, minimalist revenge thriller. While his directorial debut features many similar surface-level comparisons, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore belongs in a class of its own. The screenplay features a motley mix of rough-sanded, scrappy leads, sarcastic dialogue, eccentric supporting characters, and sudden bursts of brutal bloodshed.
All in all, it’s a very entertaining combination, with some more meaningful observations up its sleeve if you bother to look closer. This movie won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, and it has that kind of sentient, thematic blending and bending that the festival is known for showcasing. Beneath the action setpieces and snappy writing is a well-conceived portrait of a woman who is confronting many old fears and apprehensions. She is becoming someone she has never been before, when she was too scared to exit a bubble of closed-off comfort. Ruth finds herself in a do-or-die situation, and over the 96 minute runtime, changes in ways she did not even consider possible. She’s scared, of course – death lingers at every corner – but realizes some important things in the process.
Melanie Lynskey, who has been given more and more starring roles over the past few years, understands the depth of her character and delivers a layered performance. The title of the film is an initial manifesto, but is seen in different ways at the end of the movie. Lynskey guides us through Blair’s screenplay and the turns taken therein. She does good work with her co-star, Elijah Wood, who takes the part of a great comic sidekick. While Tony’s odd, consistently reiterated traits (love of heavy metal, constant aggression, and semi-mastery of his weapon of choice) lead to questions about him which are left unanswered, Wood gives it his all.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore achieves a specific mood, as a result of the writing, acting, and cinematography. DP Larkin Seiple does an excellent job in highlighting the film’s setting, a Virginia town on the lines between suburban and rural, northern and southern. It’s a hazy kind of crossing, emphasizing the fact than anything can (and does) take place in this otherwise nondescript locale. Above all, Blair seems to be adept at expressing style as a filmmaker. His ventures into the various genre types that the project embodies offset some of the character development issues that may mark his plotting. This is a solid effort, a funny and enthralling step into an auteur’s career which could be well served by further cultivation.