Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) doesn’t have the most fulfilling life. As a nurse assistant in a post-op center, she isn’t breaking bank, and has to witness people die every now and again. Her house has ants, her best friend’s husband doesn’t like her much, people keep cutting her in lines, and some dick at a bar just spoiled the book she was reading. And when she finally gets home after a bummer day, hoping to grab a beer and relax, she discovers that her home was broken into. Her feelings of vulnerability aren’t helped when the police don’t seem that interested in finding the guy who broke into her house and stole her laptop and heirloom silverware. When she decides to take matters into her own hands, the only help she can find is from a neighbor (Elijah Wood), whose dog keeps shitting on her lawn, and who she recently tried to pelt with said dog’s poop. And things don’t get any easier.
I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. is, as the title suggests, a film about alienation, about the small indecencies we subject each-other through that slowly wear us down until we either become numb to them, or break under their pressure. Ruth just wants people to stop being assholes to each-other, but can’t help herself from getting back people who wronged her when the opportunity presents itself and she knows nobody will stop her. The world as reflected by first time director (and writer) Macon Blair isn’t based on a cycle of violence, but of pettiness; pettiness that accumulates like snow going downhill until it becomes an unstoppable force.
The movie carries with it a constant sense of dreadful nihilism, with characters seemingly resigned to their place in the cycle of small indignities. Passiveness is a sin that’s punished with the taking of these small barbs, but in asserting yourself, the film suggests you might just pass-forward your troubles on others.
Lynskey is ideal as Ruth, endowing her with the perfect balance of timidity and anxiousness, yet rightful indigence of how the world has treated her. She’s someone desperate to take some control over her small corner of the world, and quickly finds herself overwhelmed by her decisions. Every action is prefixed by hesitation as this ball of nervous energy tries to be careful in not becoming the sort of asshole that drove her to this point in the first place.
Elijah Wood, as Ruth’s neighbor, Tony, also brings to light the hidden depths of his character. While our first impression of him is that he’s just another dick letting his dog shit on Ruth’s lawn, he quickly reveals himself to be a kindred spirit. While just as – if not more – awkward than Ruth, Tony already is a righteous spirit whose been looking for a cause to get behind, and seemingly an excuse to use his nunchaku. Amazingly, he ends up becoming the film’s conscious, as the only person in the film driven to help someone else rather than simply himself.
For a first time director, Blair has admirable command over tone, switching between the mundane and the absurd gracefully, and sometimes at the drop of a hat. One early example involves a cut from a patient dying under Ruth’s watch to an utter gutbuster. He also knows how to lay on the tension when a scene calls for the audience to really understand the weight of a situation. When Ruth discovers that her home had been burgled, Blair makes the weight of that invasion of personal space land like a ton of bricks. We can feel Ruth’s final straw strain under the pressure of realizing that there really is nowhere in the world that she can truly call her own anymore.
Unlike his friend and collaborator Jeremy Saulnier, or the Coen Brothers (seemingly another strong inspiration for this film), Blair lets off his protagonists a little too easy by the end. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. is at its best when confronting its premise head-on, and kindness feels like it should stay an unreachable oasis for the characters in this world. Still, any film that prompts a favorable comparison to the Coens is a film worth seeing, and marks another impressive debut (following Get Out and Raw) for 2017.