Directed by Macon Blair
My only previous experience with Macon Blair is 2013’s Blue Ruin. It’s a film he didn’t direct (as I had thought), but just starred in. Like Blue Ruin and the movies of Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys), I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (IDFAHITWA) is hyper-violent, but only in small doses. Blair knows when to hold back and when to unleash his violence, and when he does, boy it’s entertaining and graphic.
Violence in movies should be creative and inventive, like a dance number or good dialogue. In most films, instead, it’s formulaic. There are gunshots to the head in plenty of movies, as the only sign of a definitive kill, but then you have the cliched and overused gunshots to the gut, to the shoulder, to the leg, etc. These are all designed to show you that the person shot isn’t yet dead. Another set of films, the John Wick films, also use violence creatively.
In IDFAHITWA, the violence is almost always stunning and occasionally hilarious. The story is about a woman, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) who has had enough with the assholery around her, and she decides to fight back. Physical violence is as new to her as it would be to any of us in our everyday lives. The problem is that this is a movie, and we’re all accustomed to movie violence. So this presents a challenge to director Macon Blair to make the violence just as surprising to us as it would be to Ruth.
Of course, the movie isn’t just about that violence. In fact, the guns, knives, throwing stars and blood only really show up in the third act. In the first two acts, the violence is like a cameo, coming and going to keep us on our toes until it eventually becomes the guest of honor.
Ruth, our protagonist, is distressed. People are rude when they don’t need to be, and it’s weighing her down. She’s a nurse, and in one scene an elderly patient dies but only after cursing the world and herself in vulgar terms. It seems life just might be this way, all the way until the end.
Then one day, Ruth’s house is burgled, and the police demonstrate a reluctance to pursue the thieves, mainly because they have to abide by certain lawful practices, and these kinds of burglaries are often unsolved. When Ruth confronts a neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood) about his dog pooping in her yard, she begins to feel a little more powerful. She discovers a foot print in her yard and makes a clay mold of it, her first clue.
Soon she finds herself asking Tony for backup when she tracks her stolen laptop to a house not far away. Tony, it seems, is just as fed up as she is, and he’s willing to (try to) make a few heads roll to restore order in the world. They get the laptop back, and they’re told that the laptop was purchased at an outpost that sells mostly stolen things.
Before Ruth and Tony head to the outpost, we are introduced to the thief and his gang of other thieves. It’s kind of a creepy set up. The thief, a teenager who looks like Slim Shady, is under the spell of an older man, like creepier but less intimidating Charles Manson. They’re a band of robbers who drive around in one of those vans that when you see it, you know to avoid it.
Ruth and Tony head back to the outpost where Ruth finds her silverware that was stolen. She is about to steal it back when she recognizes the Slim Shady robber based on his shoe (which has tape wrapped around it that she remembers from the clay mold of the footprint). She gets distracted, and the older man who runs the stop tries to stop her. Ruth accidentally whips the chest of silverware around and clocks the man on the side of the head. When she tries to apologize, the man almost immediately grabs her hand and breaks her ring finger. Tony then shows up and slams the man to the ground, eager to fight.
Again, this is some stunning violence. A broken finger is almost harder to watch than a man getting impaled, simply because we don’t see broken fingers as much in movies. I’m still wincing just thinking of Ruth’s askew finger.
Ruth continues to try to get the police to get involved, showing them what she has found, but the detective on her case tells her to give it up. It’s clear they can’t or won’t do anything for her. On their own, Ruth and Tony trace the van’s license plates (which they caught while at the outpost), to a large home nestled in the woods.
There they impersonate the police and seem to fool a bored housewife, but when her husband returns home, their plan falls apart. The burglar of Ruth’s house, Christian, turns out be the son of this wealthy couple. They turn Ruth and Tony away, defeated and humiliated.
Back at home, Christian and his partners in crime, follow Ruth, wondering why exactly she has been following them. They even followed her to Christian’s house and have gotten suspicious. Their plan is to rob Christian’s wealthy parents, but they want to make sure nothing is amiss. When Christian, whom Ruth recognizes by now, shows up inside her home, trying to scare her, Ruth clocks him across the face. He stumbles into the street and is hit and killed by a bus.
The other two thieves then kidnap Ruth and force her to help rob Christian’s home with them because they need a third person. They use the familiarity between Christian’s parents and Ruth as a way inside the house. Once there, the real violence explodes.
After a tense altercation (something like a Tarantino Mexican standoff), the parents’ bodyguard is killed, one of the robbers’ own hands is blown off by a backfire (she’s using an old, faulty gun), and Tony shows up, but he’s stabbed repeatedly in the gut multiple times.
After the altercation, three people are dead, Christian’s mother escapes, and Ruth and Tony flee into the woods as the head robber pursues them. Tony appears to die from blood loss, and the thief is killed by a snake.
In the end, we see Ruth return to her original routine of boredom and frustration, but in a final shot we see that Tony is alive and well and happy.
I really loved this film, but it’s also just the type of film that appeals to me. There is action, violence, humor and quirky characters, which I love. I’m not a big fan of violence (I can barely stand to watch knife violence in movies), but when it’s done well, it’s like great CGI. I imagine that good, surprising, inventive violence in movies is like if you took someone from 1970 and showed them Avatar.
Any movie is like a straight line, but a straight line is a boring line. A great movie still goes from point A to point B, but it zigzags or it weaves or it swirls. It’s a ride. I’m not speaking structurally here, I’m speaking more in terms of the feeling the audience gets while watching it.
Now how do you achieve these zig zags, swirls and twists? A lot of modern Hollywood action films seem to think it’s with superheroes and CGI. Any of the Marvel movies, for example. They show you these CGI-drenched monsters fighting CGI-drenched robots, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. But these zig zags and swirls can be achieved through more than just what’s at stake.
A good film is not only entertaining and gripping, but it introduces you to a premise or a setting or a world and then simmers there before it suddenly dives deeper into that world. You’re supposed to find the premise interesting, and then you go on a ride you didn’t expect. Some of these thrills are simply from well-executed drama or humor or choreographed action. Logan was a recent superhero film that did this well. It’s a film with low stakes, compared to typical Marvel films, but we care about the people involved in the story, so we’re more immersed in the tension.
The opening scene of Inglorious Basterds does this well too, but in a different way. The appeal of that scene is the bold suspense you’re thrown into. We don’t know the characters involved, but we feel a wide range of emotions in a short amount of time.
And I guess what I’m trying to say is that the violence in this film gave me that same feeling. It was shocking. I think we all have a feeling of what violence in movies looks like and therefore we have an expectation. But in IDFAHITWA, the violence goes wrong, and it involves our heroes. When Ruth gets her finger broken or Tony is stabbed, I was caught completely off guard, but that’s the risk when you put yourself in a situation to cause havoc, as the police detective tells Ruth in the middle of the story.
So I don’t know how best to describe what I’m trying to say, but the point is that good movies tend to surprise you without feeling like they cheated, and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore did that.
*I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is streaming on Netflix (Netflix original).