Taking its name from the lyrics of an Albert E. Brumley gospel song, actor/writer Macon Blair’s directorial debut declares his quirky dark side almost immediately in I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. At once a missive against assholes, and simultaneously embracing the need to become just that at strategic intervals, the winner in this year’s Grand Jury Prize for US Dramatic competition is disarmingly charming.
As the title would imply, this is a film about being at odds with the dominant paradigm. When depressed Ruth’s (Melanie Lynskey) home is burgled, her underlying feelings of the world being filled with miserable bastards is confirmed. However, when a chance to retrieve her lost gems presents itself, she teams up with rattailed Tony (Elijah Wood) on a quest that spins out of control very quickly.
“The way people treat each other is disgusting,” remarks Ruth, and the narrative is determined to show us just that. Filled with a supporting cast of wholly unlikeable characters – and soon to be immortal lines like “Have you ever eaten cat meat?” – Blair’s script has a rich vein of black comedy running through its system. At times the film is tonally all over the place, lurching from dark comedy to just plain dark, in a matter of beats. Yet there’s a sub-theme of escalation that this approach perfectly ties into.
Dreamily shot, some so-soft-it’s-natural lighting and the use of lens flare in key sequences gives the film an ethereal feel, or the disconnected state that Ruth is perpetually in. Lynskey is wonderful as the lead, perfectly summing up depression as being “underneath a whirlpool and I can’t even breathe.” This single plaintive line encompasses her completely, but as she attempts to find her things and enact some justice, she slowly becomes as much a part of the cycle of assholery as everyone else. As she encounters a pack of dangerous criminals, everything starts to go horribly wrong for her in the best Coen Brothers tradition.
The last third of the film is rapidly enveloped by over-the-top violence as it switches gears into a full-tilt thriller/horror film in the wetlands. Not all of this shift works in the film’s favour, with the ultimate moment of victory bizarrely contrived and borderline parodic. Yet it’s also wonderful to see a film that so fully embraces this controlled chaos, marking Blair as a director to watch.