I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Actor Macon Blair has made a name for himself in his two collaborations with up & coming filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin & Green Room, which has left him associated with a slick, low budget style of edge-of-your-seat thrillers. As a first time director in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Blair uses that reputation to his full advantage. He applies the same eye for real world detail and believably brutal bursts of unexpected violence that have distinguished Saulnier’s films to a refreshingly new genre context those two works only hint at: comedy. The violence in Macon Blair’s filmmaking debut is just as swift, brutal, and authentic as it feels in either Blue Ruin or Green Room, but is somehow adapted to a dark comedic tone that evokes howls of laughter instead of fits of nail-biting. Like a subdued, small scale version of The Nice Guys, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore finds a way to continuously surprise & delight, despite depicting realistic, out of left field brutality.

Melanie Lynskey stars as an Average American Woman, seemingly milquetoast in every way except that she can’t let go of petty micro-aggressions. Book spoilers, untended dog poop, obnoxious car exhaust, getting cut off at the grocery store checkout: our modern day anti-hero is disgusted by a myriad of tiny displays of selfishness, rudeness, and greed. She declares, “Everyone is an asshole . . . and dildos.” This Falling Down style of railing against modernity finally breaks her psyche when her home is looted by lowlife meth addicts and the police show little to no interest in helping her retrieve her stolen things: a laptop, her grandmother’s antique silver, and (maybe most importantly) her mood stabilizing medication. This inspires her to embark on a vigilante mission along with a similarly self-righteous neighbor (Elijah Wood in some convincing metalhead Napoleon Dynamite cosplay) to take down the den of meth addict thieves herself. Antics ensue. Horrifically violent, exponentially snowballing antics.

Because Melanie Lynskey’s audience-centering protagonist is unmedicated and increasingly unhinged, there’s a heightened, almost cartoonishly surreal sense of reality in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. The film’s vigilantism is anchored to a believable real world setting, but there’s something absolutely absurd about the way every hunch its protagonist entertains immediately pays off and she swiftly finds her way back to the creeps who invaded her home. The meth head monsters she finds at the end of this trail of neatly laid-out clues are headed by none other than The Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow (who was fantastic in the recent horror anthology Southbound), presenting such a grotesque personification of Small Town Evil that the film takes on almost a religious parable level of simplistic exaggeration. Elijah Wood’s sidekick vigilante is just as clearly coded as a Force of Good with an unbreakable moral code, no matter how much you underestimate him based in his rat tail, his nunchucks, and his lackluster “hacking” skills. The criminals are just as amateur and unprepared as “the good guys” in this allegory about the messiness of revenge and by the time the whole ordeal becomes a violent showdown in a cookie cutter McMansion & the nearby woods, every last player is made to look like a (bloodied, exhausted) fool.

As cartoonishly silly as I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore often is, Macon Blair does his best to place it in the context of a real, relatable world. Light beer, country music, upper-deckers, and smoking meth in the woods all sketch out a real world playing field where Melanie Lynskey’s unreal vigilante warpath can be staged. Her mission of principle, not in search of compensation, but for the simple demand that “people not be assholes” boasts an absurd, intangible goal and the movie itself never shies away from matching that absurdity in its overall tone. It’s rare that modern comedies are as tightly constructed or as visually striking as Blair’s debut. Each scene feels meticulously scripted, competently executed, and necessary to a larger plot with an inevitably bloody climax. In a post-Apatow world where we’re so used to comedies sprawling into overlong, heavily improvised tangential bits, it’s refreshing to see I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore function like an intricate jigsaw puzzle where every piece has its place in the larger picture. It also helps that the shocks of the film’s violence and the humor of its heightened sense of absurdity cut through any of its lost prestige as a product that was dumped straight to Netflix after a very brief festival run. It’s a great film no matter what circumstances dictated its (practically non-existent) theatrical release and I left it newly excited for the careers of several people I already knew I loved: Yow, Blair, Wood, and Lynskey. They’re all in top form.

-Brandon Ledet

Southbound (2016)

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The horror anthology is a tried & true genre formula that opens up an opportunity for directors (often in collaboration) to experiment with several short-form narratives & modes of cruelty without having to fully commit to a single, dead end morality tale at feature length. Since the genre’s heyday in the 70s & 80s, however, it’s been stuck in a very rigid structural form that’s far more limiting than what its playfully experimental storytelling style calls for. A typical horror anthology presents a wraparound segment, say Debbie Harry preparing to cook & eat a child in Tales from the Darkside, that provides a reason or a context for its several short form stories to be told. It’s an easy, functional structure, but one that feels increasingly stilted in a modern context. The best horror anthologies in recent memory are the ones that attempt to break away from this classic formula by establishing a looser, more freeform mode of connecting their segments. Michael Dougherty’s Halloween-themed anthology feature Trick ‘r Treat was an interesting development in the genre in the way it repurposed the everything-is-connected structure of indie-dramedies from the aughts for something much more eerie & amusingly sinister. The 2016 feature Southbound picks up the torch from Trick ‘r Treat in this way, dropping a lot of that film’s campy humor, but keeping & developing its ideas on how the horror anthology genre can potentially be reshaped & modernized.

Directed by an art collective known as Radio Silence, who had a hand in the recent anthology feature V/H/S, Southbound escapes the anthology genre’s wraparound segment requirement by anchoring its interwoven narratives to a single location: a desert hellscape. Much like the straight-to-VHS minor cult classic Highway to Hell, Southbound finds the desert to be a perfectly appropriate (and attractively affordable) blank slate backdrop for its supernatural, hellbound terrors. This is a Tales from the Crypt-meets-Twilight Zone collection of morality tales in which several travelers on “a road that doesn’t seem to exist” feel remorse for crimes they’ve committed (ranging from abandoning a friend or texting while driving to full-blown homicide) and, thus, end up in a continuous loop that looks, feels, and sounds a lot like purgatory. Each tormented soul, from a business man to a small time crook who recently committed murder to the lead singer of a Coathangers-style punk band, attempts to rationalize their lives’ mistakes & convince themselves they’re not in the wrong, but their guilt continues to torment them all the same along that “long road to redemption.” Also eager to torment them are the much more literal threats of 70s era Satanic cults, vampiric demon alcoholics, cruel EMT phone operators, and floating jellyfish-esque Angels of Death that recall CGI recreations of Harryhausen’s stop motion skeleton army. Southbound is loaded with the same body horror, spooky ghosts, and general devilry that populates just about every modern horror you can name. It even falls into that faux 1970s vibe of recent productions like We are Still Here & The Conjuring that has become such a ubiquitous trend as of late. The film finds its own eerie groove in its supernatural dilemmas, though, where everything just feels off, as if in a nightmare or a stress dream. It also wraps around to complete its own circle in an impressively ambitious way, a closed loop terror I tend to fall for in similar fare like the severely underappreciated Triangle.

It’s easy to fault Southbound for common 2010s horror tropes like cribbing from The Devil’s Rain-era Satanism or borrowing some John Carpenter notes in its score or using an old, innocuous pop song in a spooky context (in this case a girl group singing “Don’t let the party end” in an endless, horrific purgatory), but the film really does push itself in ambition & weird ideas in other ways. The acting & the CGI can be a little weak, but the film more than makes up for it in its supernaturally uneasy mood and in its willingness to linger in a situation once its initial shock has already settled. For instance, many a horror anthology might reveal a Satanic cult as a threat in a stray segment, but Southbound puts care in its revelation of that threat, which slips out during the following summertime prayer: “Oh, Divine One, we offer our gratitude for this beast, for this blood, for these vessels of anew. We bow to you, for you are all-knowing. We offer ourselves to you, for you are the master” and continues to slowly develop from there. Weird stuff. I also feel like I’m burying the lede here by failing to mention until this point that The Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid front man David Yow stops by as an unhinged feature player, one that humorously demands the desert road’s demonic inhabitants “Quit being so fucking mysterious!” The one stretch of Southbound that kind of lost me was the final segment’s indulgence in one of my least favorite genres, the home invasion thriller, but that’s mostly a matter of taste & eventually it proves itself useful by completing the film’s closed circuit of desert-bound purgatory horror. As a modern horror anthology, the film mostly delivers both on its genre-specific surface pleasures & its interest in boundary-pushing narrative innovation, which is more than you can say for most modern horror films it resembles. Besides, it features David Yow wielding a shotgun like a raving lunatic. Where else are you going to find that? (Please don’t ever tell me there’s an answer to that question.)

-Brandon Ledet