At Sundance’s post-world-premiere Q&A for I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, first-time feature film writer-director Macon Blair told the audience that the film was essentially “a wish-fulfillment fantasy” stemming from a house robbery. Someone broke into his home and stole his laptop and an item of sentimental value, and the police told him not to bother tracking the laptop, or otherwise following up on the case. Hence I Don’t Feel at Home, a film that doesn’t feel like wish-fulfillment so much as a dark, dizzy daydream about just how bad amateur vigilante justice can get.
Blair is a longtime friend and partner of indie director Jeremy Saulnier, and a producer and actor in Saulnier’s Green Room and Murder Party. But he’s most memorable as the star of Saulnier’s tremendous breakout movie Blue Ruin, as a different kind of clumsy amateur vigilante. I Don’t Feel at Home does bring Blue Ruin to mind, especially in the awkward, abrupt violence and the deliberate choice not to make revenge cathartic or appealing. But I Don’t Feel at Home also feels like Blue Ruin’s wackier cousin, especially as the action gets bigger, broader, and more bizarre.
What’s the genre?
Mopey precious indie sadness drama for about 10 minutes, then suddenly an escalating black comedy about terrible choices and worse outcomes.
What's it about?
When a burglar robs shy, depressed Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), she sees it as confirmation of her growing feeling that people are essentially assholes, and that they’ve poisoned the world. An encounter with neighborhood oddball Tony (Elijah Wood) gives her a tiny sense of power, and she starts doggedly pursuing the thief herself. Things snowball horrifically from there, in ways that involve a lot of guns, a lot of vomit, and an escape canoe.
What's it really about?
How most people essentially are assholes, but ultimately resisting assholery by any means imaginable feels much better than caving in or giving up.
But is it any good?
Lynskey has been in a lot of films and on a lot of TV shows (including in a lengthy run on Two and a Half Men), but her career has never really reached the peak that seemed foreordained by her debut at age 16 in Peter Jackson’s 1994 Heavenly Creatures, opposite Kate Winslet. This film feels too small and quirky to launch Lynskey to Winsletian levels, but it’s still an enjoyable chance to see her in a starring role, playing a fairly complicated character who gets to be both a meek nerd and a determined badass, sometimes practically at the same time. She’s got a sweet charisma in the early going, but the real fun comes late in the movie, when she finally accepts where all the unintended consequences of her actions have led her, and begins to seriously fight back. She’s a huge asset to the movie, and so is Elijah Wood, playing his fragile-but-kinda-unsettling vibe to the hilt.
I Don’t Feel at Home is a strange movie tonally, and not merely because of its early, abrupt shift from shapeless indie hangout flick to Coen Brothers-esque black-comedy mayhem. The film’s second act jumps back and forth between Ruth and her house-robbing adversary, who seems to be operating in an entirely different film. Ruth’s early scenes feature her sighing defeatedly over people who drive loud trucks and don’t pick up after themselves in public. The burglar, Christian (Devon Graye), is introduced while shitting in a home owner’s toilet tank during a party, then stealing her jewelry and brutally beating one of the party guests.
And the difference isn’t just narrative, it’s visual and stylistic. Ruth’s scenes are brighter, talkier, and more wandering; Christian’s scenes are dark and minimalist, with punchy action and the constant heavy threat of violence. It’s an ambitious way of separating the two foils, by implying they literally inhabit different worlds, but it feels too conscious and mannered, and the transitions are as jarring as channel-surfing between two movies at once. As their parallel stories develop, neither of them steps into the other’s cinematic world — they both enter a third one, where over-the-top gross-out comedy reigns. That undermines any intended commentary about how different circumstances and surroundings shape different people, or about how everyone lives in their own subjective world.
Still, the anything-goes approach lets the film surge in one unexpected direction after another, and its sheer unpredictability becomes a huge asset as the story snowballs. There are a lot of movies about people charting bloody paths of revenge, and a lot more about people making questionable decisions that lead to horrible, inescapable corners. But they tend to come with a heavy sense of inevitability. This one is much more dedicated to surprising viewers, and occasionally flat-out shocking them. And while the segments don’t entirely jibe into a single coherent narrative, they certainly suggest Blair’s talent with different storytelling modes, from the Eagle vs Shark-style awkward-loner-romance scenes between Ruth and Tony to the Guy Ritchie thugs-being-thugs moments among Christian and his contacts.
Ultimately, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World feels like an ambitious experiment from a first-time filmmaker trying everything at once. It’s scattershot, but it’s also goofy, creepy, and just wild surprising fun.
What should it be rated?
The bloody mayhem and gruesome wounds really probably only rate a PG-13, but the choices the film presents as the only logical reactions to the world — weary, resigned cynicism or semi-accidental violent rampage — might warrant an R. Younger viewers who pick the second option might get ideas about stocking up on nunchaku and throwing stars, like Tony. And really, once you have those things sitting around, everybody looks like they need a shuriken to the face.
How can I actually watch it?
Netflix produced the film, and it’ll be available for streaming on the service on February 24th.