Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore

The influence of David Lynch rests heavily on I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore, a movie made for Netflix and directed by a newcomer, Macon Blair.  The premise of the film is that ordinary bland virtue is menaced by satanic evil, wickedness so terrible that it physically marks and deforms those it afflicts.  As in Lynch's films like Blue Velvet, the movie's raison d'etre is to show that there lurks beneath our quotidian, dull existence a world of seething, grotesque evil.  This proposition is questionable, even adolescent, I think, but makes for an effective, if lurid movie -- a tale that starts out in ordinary reality but quickly detours into imagery that is the equivalent of a hysterical, high-pitched scream.

As in Lynch's films, something has to slightly derange the protagonist, in this case an "assistant nurse," that is, the person with whom we identify as someone of reasonable kindness and ordinary good will.  At the hospital where she works, a woman dies shrieking obscenities at her TV set.  This leads the nurse, who has witnessed this event, to question her existence -- what is the meaning of things if we are all doomed to simply vanish "into carbon", she questions.  The socio-economic milieu and setting of the film are vague -- the nurse, who lives alone on what seems to be minimum wage work, occupies a small, but comfortable house.  The scenery vaguely suggests the American south, possibly some place like Georgia, although it isn't clear where the story takes place -- the movie was made in Portland, Oregon.  Returning home from work, the nurse finds that her house has been invaded, her computer taken as well as some antique silver that her grandmother owned -- the grandmother's spectral figure appears from time-to-time, a typical sixties matron with sunglasses, clad in a stylish pastel outfit, and smoking a cigarette.  (The grandmother's apparition plays the same general role as that played by the ghost of Elvis Presley in Lynch's Wild at Heart.)  The police, predictably enough, are no help and, so, the nurse enlists the aid of an eccentric neighbor, a nerd played by Elijah Wood.  It turns out that the computer and silverware were stolen by a grinning white-haired boy who is the thrall of an older, greaser -- a middle-aged man with slicked-back hair and a morose, impenetrable expression who looks exactly like one of Lynch's sinister drifters (we see him initially at a campfire in the deep woods, filmed over his shoulder in profile, a weird brooding figure that exudes a sense of unpredictable, ghastly evil.)  The drifter has a girlfriend that he is sharing with the white-haired kid, a feral girl  with completely dead and staring eyes.  At first, the film plays like a variant on The Big Lebowski -- the nurse doesn't understand why people have to "be assholes to one another" and she is on righteous crusade to recover her stolen goods.  But this path leads her into increasingly strange places and encounters, for instance, a confrontation with an old skeleton of a man named "Killer Sills" who runs a salvage business and trafficks in stolen goods.  When the nurse finds her silverware with the old man, she walks out with it, there is a fight and the old man is violently knocked to the ground, either seriously injured or killed.  One of Lynch's premises is that evil is contagious and as the film progresses the kindhearted nurse becomes increasingly contaminated by the dark realm into which she has entered.  The film's violence is shocking and erupts suddenly and this will be the pattern for the rest of the movie -- although the film ultimately amps up the mayhem to an unconvincing level.  The white-haired thief is the son of a crooked lawyer involved in money-laundering or some kind of activity that requires that he have a heavily armed body-guard.  The lawyer is a sinister drunk with an idiotically perky wife.  As it happens, the boy with the sinister hobo (who he met in jail) and dead-eyed girl are plotting an armed robbery of the lawyer's house -- apparently, he keeps his ill-gotten earnings there.  The nurse and her sidekick get drawn into this fray through a series of plot contrivances and, ultimately, there is a savage shoot out in the lawyer's house --people get their hands blown off, have "morning star" throwing weapons embedded in their face, and die in other grisly and picturesque ways.  It's all completely over-the-top if scary.  The hobo hunts the girl and the badly wounded Elijah Wood in a sinister forest.  By the end of the film, the imagery has deviated into gothic Flannery O'Connor territory -- one guy wanders through the woods bellowing with an eight-foot cottonmouth snake gnawing at his cheek as if a visible manifestation of his evil and Elijah Wood is bleeding to death under the tall and menacing trees.  The end of the film is cluttered with bizarre epiphanies -- for instance, the grandmother's ghost appears to show the nurse the way out of the forest -- and the action has long since departed from anything that might be reasonably plausible.  Nonetheless, the movie is reasonably diverting, well-acted, I think, with a gallery of memorable villains and ne'er-do-wells.  It's second-rate David Lynch, but, then, even Lynch was capable of doing second-rate work imitating his best films -- for instance, Lost Highway and, I think, Wild at Heart.  Macon Blair directed.  There is an undeveloped Christian subtext and the movie's title is derived from an old Gospel tune, "The World is not my Home."  

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