Sundance 2017: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, by David Bax
Given its premiere at Sundance the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration and its consequently relatable title, Macon Blair’s directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore ought to offer some much-needed catharsis with its violent revenge storyline. Unfortunately, it only manages to confirm its protagonist’s assertion that “Everyone is an asshole” and then cynically suggest that anyone who isn’t may have to become one to survive.
Melanie Lynskey stars as Ruth, a nurse’s assistant who returns home one day (after the death of a patient whose last words are a string of racist vulgarities) to find that her home has been burglarized. After filing a police report with a condescending detective (Gary Anthony Williams) who’s clearly phoning it in, she eventually locates her stolen laptop using a smartphone app. With the authorities unwilling to offer any further assistance, she recruits her loner, nunchuck-wielding neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, in a rat-tailed, surprisingly sweet and nuanced performance) to help her confront the thieves. Together, they follow the trail into a mess of a crime story that builds as a slow burn with hints of brutality until true violence spills over all at once in a stomach-churning finale.
Blair tips his hand almost immediately. Even before the burglary, nearly every person Ruth encounters is flagrantly indifferent to those around them. That we’re invited to mock them and sympathize with Ruth’s internalized arrogance and superiority puts I Don’t Feel at Home in the company of superficial, elitist trash like Idiocracy. “Everyone’s awful,” these movies say, “except the cool, smart people like you and me, right?”
Blair is not without skill when it comes to the visual mechanics of cinema. The confrontation between Ruth and one of the criminals (Devon Graye) in Ruth’s house is a home run of economical suspense and spatial geography, following her in a full circle through her modest residence while always letting you know where the bad guy is even when you can’t see him. Blair excels even further when it comes to comedy. A scene of simple Googling is staged like a corny hacker thriller and a sequence in which a heavy (Jason Manuel Olazabal) methodically stalks through a mansion, declaring each room “clear” is too sublime to do justice to in words.
In the bloody final act, though, the only laugh to be found are deadpan, pitch-black and gory as hell. That’s not a demerit in and of itself. In fact, those are among the traits that make Blair’s starring vehicle from 2013, Blue Ruin, a modern masterpiece. That movie, though, is shot through with sadness and empathy. I Don’t Feel at Home, on the other hand, has a wealthy vulgarian who subscribes to a might-makes-right, victim-blaming philosophy that “Anyone can do anything if you let them” and then decides that Ruth’s only path to victory is to agree with him. That’s not the lesson we need to take into the next four years with us.