RUTH (MELANIE LYNSKEY) isn’t asking for much: She just wants people to not be assholes. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by them—from the racist patient in the hospital where she works, to the people who cut in line at the grocery store, to the dog owner who, every day, leaves his pup’s turds on her lawn. When someone breaks into Ruth’s house and steals her grandmother’s silverware, something snaps.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is the directorial debut of actor Macon Blair, who appeared in longtime buddy Jeremy Saulnier’s movies Blue Ruin and Green Room. Like Green Room, I Don’t Feel at Home was shot in Oregon, and it shares Saulnier’s gritty, Americana-noir qualities. Last month, Blair’s movie won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and—following an increasingly popular distribution model—is forgoing a theatrical release to go up on Netflix this weekend. Regardless of where you watch it, I Don’t Feel at Home is a small, marvelous story that defies easy categorization. The first passages play like an oddball, character-driven indie comedy, but as Ruth tracks down the thieves—in the process enlisting her impulsive, nunchaku-wielding neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood)—it becomes simultaneously scarier and funnier. As it progresses, I Don’t Feel at Home evolves into a taut pulp thriller about an unlikely vigilante.
The movie soars on Lynskey’s performance. Ever since Heavenly Creatures introduced her to the world, the actor has been a master of undercutting mousiness with malice. When we first meet Ruth, she’s barely keeping her head up, swigging too much beer and making inappropriate confessions to her friend’s five-year-old daughter. And yet we can see the muted fire inside her, the dancing flicker of danger as she absorbs life’s tiny injustices, one after another. Equally effective is Wood, hiding his saucer-sized eyes behind pedophile-style aviator glasses and using his wiry frame to full advantage; his rat-tailed, churchgoing Tony is both utterly ridiculous and fully believable. Together, Lynskey and Wood find the compassion in Blair’s screenplay, avoiding the cynicism that could have permeated the material in the hands of less subtle performers.
Portland’s undeveloped neighborhoods, shot in golden half-light, stand in for the fictional town of Chaplain, Virginia, but this movie feels like it could take place anywhere in post-industrial America. Ruth’s neighborhood holds both apple-pie suburban charm and sinister corners, where a backyard can be full of welcoming neighbors or hide a meth-fueled petty-crime syndicate (or both). Blair’s exploration of American decay is the farthest thing from being heavy-handed—he’s echoing crime movies from the ’70s perhaps more than he’s deliberately commenting on today. But the movie recognizes the rails our lives are often confined to, and has sympathy for the upheaval and force needed to change the direction of one’s trajectory.
Ruth’s own journey is one I haven’t really seen articulated on film before—the discovery that apathy does not equal virtue, and that in order to be a good person, one is called upon to do more than keep quietly to one’s self. The villains, led by Marshall (Jesus Lizard singer David Yow), occasionally turn cartoony, but the story is told from Ruth’s perspective, and her point of view rings true even as things get absurdly bloody.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’s title was inspired by a record Blair got at Mississippi Records that included an oft-recorded folk song known as both “Can’t Feel at Home” and “This World Is Not My Home.” Like those old tunes, Blair’s movie feels timeless and vividly current—it sifts through blood and loss and depression, and finds hope somewhere in the mess of life.