Macon Blair’s Right At Home in His Netflix Directorial Debut
First-time writer-director Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) isn’t clearly a horror flick, but I’m writing about it here on LGB anyway. We’ve raved on this site about Blair’s acting in Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent Blue Ruin (2013) and Green Room (2015 – read our reviews here and here). So it’s only fitting that we comment on his directorial debut. But, wait a minute — those two Saulnier films aren’t clearly horror films either. Or are they?
The late, eminent British film critic and scholar Robin Wood’s bare-bones definition of horror (1986) involves just three elements: a monster (which can be a human being), the so-called ‘normal’ world, and the relationship between them. All three films fit this basic, field-expedient definition. In Blue Ruin, Blair’s character Dwight arguably is (or becomes) the monster who disrupts his world through revenge. In Green Room, Patrick Stewart’s Darcy Banker is the embodiment of monstrosity, while Blair plays his right-hand man. Both rock the world of the members of neo-punk band The Ain’t Rights (who also appear on the soundtrack of Blair’s film).
While I Don’t Feel at Home is a darkly comic and ironic crime drama, it has an overtly identified monster, Marshall (David Yow), whose two young followers — Christian (Devon Graye) and Dez (Jane Levy) — are monsters-in-training. Yet there is so much more that is monstrous in the world of this film. That’s the reason that lead character Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) ‘loses it’ when she returns home from her nursing assistant job to find that her home has been robbed.
While social awkwardness contributes to her misery by making her an outcast, Ruth’s depression and anxiety stem mainly from the fact that, in her words, “everyone is an asshole” — including Blair in a juicy but brief cameo. When local police detective Bendix (Gary Anthony Williams) makes it clear that her burglary case is not important, Ruth makes a series of decisions — assisted by her quirky neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) — that put her on a collision course with Christian, Dez, and Marshall. This path leads to increasingly bloody violence, which is when the horror elements start to appear.
So, while I wouldn’t call this narrative a horror story, I do see it as drawing on horror tropes and other devices. They mix well with the dark comedy and irony of this movie, which is a postmodern pastiche of elements from the drama, comedy, crime, thriller and horror genres. Lynskey and Wood work well together. Wood is very non-Hobbit-like, infusing his portrayal of Tony with shades of Kip, Napoleon Dynamite’s brother in the eponymous 2004 cult classic. Lynskey is believably pathetic at the beginning. I cheered her growing moxie as the narrative unfolded. Neither actor goes over the top or chews the scenery.
While this is a very funny movie, it also has a serious undertone that resonates with the general malaise that currently pervades America in its early Trump era. For example, it satirizes the wide gulf based on socioeconomic class, at least as it exists within white America, whose racism is highlighted in a hilarious scene between Ruth and one of her patients. While the inevitable comparisons between Blair’s directorial debut and the Saulnier pictures in which he appears might find Blair’s film lacking, it’s really a case of ‘apples and oranges.’ In my opinion, fans can derive equal enjoyment from both directors’ films — both for their similarities and for their differences. I’m looking forward to Blair’s (and Saulnier’s) future productions.
Frisco Kid’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd. This film is currently streaming on Netflix.
Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia U Press, 1986. Print.