Review: 'I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' Starring Melanie Lynskey And Elijah Wood

*NOTE: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival. The film is available right now on Netflix. *

If you know the name Macon Blair it's probably because you're a fan of his performances in his buddy Jeremy Saulnier's films, Blue Ruin and Green Room. But he's sort of been making the arc toward directing for a while, and Sundance sees the premiere of his debut, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a title that feels longer than the lean 90-minute movie itself.  In a lot of ways it feels like a continuation of Saulnier's "color" genre flicks in its unusual approach to chaotic vengeance, but Blair brings incredible humanity and humor to a story that is dark, violent, and romantic when you least expect it.

Rule #1 to pleasing the Sundance crowd? Cast Melanie Lynskey. The festival darling brings spirit and pathos to another troubled character, this time as Ruth, who is really just having a tough time with life in general. A nursing assistant, she has an epiphany about the pointlessness of life after a patient's embarrassing final words before death. An existential crisis is enough to deal with, but when she comes to her rundown home to discover it's been broken into, with her laptop and beloved grandma's silver stolen, it's one thing too many. So she joins with a weirdo ninjitsu-obsessed neighbor Tony (Wood), who had been letting his dog crap on her lawn much to her annoyance, to find the culprits. Together they forge one of screen's oddest dynamic duos, but also one of the most entertaining for being so unpredictable.

"People are assholes", Ruth says, and she's tired of letting the assholes get away with everything. Much like the protagonist of Blue Ruin and the doomed punk rockers of Green Room, this isn't a movie where the heroes know what the Hell they are doing. It adds a touch of realism and comedy that Blair occasionally struggles to balance with the grim consequences his characters often face. A confrontation over the laptop eventually leads Ruth to a trio of cold-blooded baddies, and at first their parallel story doesn't mesh with the film's offbeat tone. It takes a while for Blair to gel their mayhem with Ruth's plucky determination, but when they collide the results are spectacularly insane and very very bloody. The cycle of violence plays out in ways that are often hilarious, like Tony's overhyped kung-fu skills, but are always gruesome. Blair doesn't let us forget that, even though Ruth and Tony mean well and are generally good people, there's a whole karma thing going on when it comes to violence, and usually it comes back to bite you in the ass. Or in the face.

I don't know if anybody can make somberness funny the way Lynskey does, but once again she has found a way to make a sad sack character somebody to be loved. Her downplayed energy matches perfectly with Wood's bizarro enthusiasm, which I find is so much more appealing than his recent spate of creepy roles.  The supporting roles leave a little to be desired, especially Gary Anthony Williams as a pig-headed detective and Jane Levy in a strange turn as one of the more twisted villains, so it's good that so much focus is on Lynskey and Wood who are absolutely brilliant.

Capturing a gloomy atmosphere that matches the spirit of his characters, Blair transports us into a little corner of the world where desperation comes in many forms. Everybody in this poor little town is feeling desperate about something, from the poor living on the swampy outskirts to the rich in their McMansions. And that desperation comes out in violent frustration, which Blair keeps tightly-wound in his characters before letting out in nasty bursts. Even Ruth has her moments...actually, she has many of them. And watching Lynskey transform her from life's doormat to someone who grabs life by the balls is what makes  I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore a special kind of revenge movie that Netflix was smart to pick up early.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5