Melanie Lynskey has been an ever-present on our screens for a quarter-century now without ever really receiving her due. She was the murderous schoolgirl who wasn't Kate Winslet in 1994's Heavenly Creatures; had a spacey (and hopefully well-paid) comic triumph as Charlie Sheen's adorable stalker Rose in Two and a Half Men; and more recently re-emerged on TV in the Stephen King fanfic of Hulu's Castle Rock, having previously hopped around Tinseltown as one of the many eminently capable actresses yet to propel their names above a movie's title. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore., the dark comedy that marks the directorial debut of the actor Macon Blair (star of Jeremy Saulnier's acclaimed indies Blue Ruin and Green Room), is as close as Lynskey's had to an outright star vehicle, and it may be no coincidence that it finds her playing a somewhat overlooked woman seemingly waiting to go off like a volcano. Her Ruthie is a nursing assistant whose professional gentility is tested indeed by the gazillion-and-one passive-aggressions Blair sends her way: dogowners allowing their pooches to poop in her yard, fellow shoppers cutting the queue, people not picking up after themselves. A breaking point of some kind is reached when she returns home after a tough shift to find thieves have ransacked the place and made off with several of her belongings; recruiting an uptight kung-fu enthusiast by way of muscle (Elijah Wood, suggesting a lost Napoleon Dynamite sibling), our heroine zigzags off in search of the ne'er-do-wells responsible, in what comes to seem less a quest for justice than a potentially lethal collision course.
In some respects, that set-up is an outward-bound variation on Green Room: again, it's normies versus nasties, with no guarantees offered as to who will be left standing come the final credits. A funny opening sequence - which finds Ruthie tending to a bedbound crone who goes beyond "comedy racist grandma" to real piece of work - establishes the baselines; what's distinctive about IDFAHITWA - what presumably pushed it beyond the pale of the studio system, and out onto Netflix - is that those ne'er-do-wells prove to be properly nasty, sociopathically selfish small-town shitkickers with fucking terrible haircuts. Yet what Blair has twigged is that there exists a simmering resentment inside even the most right-minded and thoughtful among us, one that, once unstoppered, may explode in directions we cannot control, and prove damaging to anyone within our radius, including ourselves. This lends a peculiar tension to every set-up Ruthie jitters into: Lynskey plays the character as an atom bomb inside a bath bomb, her external powdering of sweetness and light masking an aggrieved and increasingly unstable core. We're struck by how skilfully Blair handles that violence when it finally erupts. From Saulnier, he's inherited a feel for the latent threat of quiet American backwaters, and a recognisable technical clout: lopping the edges off his scenes exposes sharp corners, yanks everybody on screen from their domestic complacency towards the very fringes of civilisation, and brings the viewer closer to the philosophical nub of such matters than a blustering fanboy like Tarantino ever has. When asked by one of her targets what she ultimately wants, Ruthie responds "For people not to be assholes." Blair's wild and strangely engaging film understands that a person could spend their rest of their life pursuing that goal to the ends of the Earth, with nothing to show for it but a mounting frustration.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. is now streaming via Netflix.