“What happened to you?”
Leviticus 20:7: “Any man or woman who consults with the spirits of the dead shall be put to death. For they are a witch, and their blood shall be on their own hands.”
“This is her revenge. This is her ritual.”
With as much hype as this film got, I was super excited to see it and also bummed that it was one of a handful I missed at Fantastic Fest 2016. That said, after finally watching it, I feel a case of over-hypedness.
Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s an above-average horror film with strong character development, great acting, good special effects, superb production, a few jump scares, and interesting turns that keep us intrigued throughout the plotline. But, for me, the payoff just wasn’t original enough to be truly memorable. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, though, this one’s probably for you.
The basic concept itself is unique: while investigating a domestic crime scene, the Sherriff finds a dead body, seemingly unharmed and in remarkably good condition, half-buried in the basement. She’s of no relation to the house owners, no identification, and there’s no sign of forced entry, so he drives her to the Tilden Crematorium as the press will undoubtedly want answers about the mysterious body the following morning. It’s through her autopsy that the secrets of her death and origin are revealed, which turns out to be a hair-raising and supernatural experience.
Character motivations progress as Tommy Tilden, the head of the three generations who have owned and run the facility, states: “Leave the ‘why’ to the cops and the shrinks. We’re just here to define cause of death – no more, no less.” Yet as the night treads on, he’s compelled to surpass his role as the mere forensic pathologist and solve the mystery of Jane’s untimely end. Or is it just the beginning? As Austin states, “If we can just figure out how she died, we can figure out how to stop her.”
Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox are Austin and Tommy Tilden, father and son duo. Tommy serves as the mentor figure, challenging his son to learn at every turn. The mother/wife is deceased, and the resident Crematorium, rat-hunting cat, Stanley, is the only remainder of her existence. Austin is dating girlfriend Emma, and the two have planned a move or get-away unknown to Tommy. Austin berates the idea of being a forensic pathologist for the rest of his life and dismisses following in the footsteps of his father, although he does bear an obligation to Tommy out of family duty and the shared loss of the mother.
Despite Emma’s presence in Austin’s life, she’s never before visited the Crematorium. She’s eager to see a dead body, and Tommy encourages her participation. He explains the bells hung from dead bodies’ wrists, at one time in history meant to indicate that they were in fact still alive. This is also akin to myths and folklore in cemeteries where ghost hunters often claim to hear bells ringing in the distance. It’s a haunting element at play throughout the entire film. Damn that spooky-ass bell!
So Jane’s autopsy begins! There are a slew of injuries: broken wrists and ankles, gray eyes which imply she’s been dead for days yet a body which shows no signs of rigor mortis, an abnormally small waist linked to the usage of a corset (ala Victorian period centuries earlier), blackened lungs, tissue possibly consumed in melanoma, shattered joints, a severed tongue, vaginal trauma, and the lists gets weirder. They ponder sexual servitude or abuse and torture of some kind, but the results are so confounding that they’re unable to arrive at a solid conclusion. Yet.
And her blood. Her nose starts bleeding mid-autopsy after the discovery of a missing tooth, and a fly crawls out of one nostril. When Austin takes a blood sample, it inexplicably overflows and spills onto the refrigerator racks and floor beneath minutes later. What’s up with that?
Father and son have a habit of drawing out their observations on a chalkboard. The deeper they get into the procedure, the more strange things begin happening. The radio begins switching channels and playing by itself, sometimes sounds of a struggle or ominous words, other times a song: “Open up your heart, and let the sunshine in.”
It’s important to note that the mother was called, by Tommy, Ray – as in a ray of sunshine. Always bright and laughing despite her dark surroundings and her suggested misery (it’s implied she committed suicide). Is the playing of this song meant to agonize Tommy? Or is it just a coincidence?
There are weird noises and movements abound throughout the facility after the presence of Jane’s body. And for some reason poor Stanley is affected, Austin finding him hiding and dying in an air duct. Tommy is forced to put him out of his misery by snapping his neck. Is Stanley’s death due to old age? A bad rat? Or because of Jane? But really, as Austin urges, everything that night is all her. It’s all because of Jane.
They find Jimson Weed in Jane’s gastrointestinal system, a paralysis agent, as well as peat moss beneath her nails and in her hair, which are native to the north and leads us to her origin: the northeast, Salem perhaps?
Then there’s a tooth (the missing molar!), wrapped in a cloth scrawled with odd, ritualistic emblems and roman numerals, buried within her organs.
Okay, so she’s a witch! And she prepared her body with ritualistic objects and scriptures to haunt and torment her assailants, or anyone else who messed with her body throughout the witch hunt of the Salem Trials. She gets credit for fucking with the people who attempted to destroy her but simultaneously has this hardened evilness that eliminates audience empathy. Sorry, Jane, that you were hunted and tortured … but you’re kind of an evil bitch!
The ability to reanimate other dead bodies to serve as minions of her army and then heal her wounds (and actually regrow her removed organs?) suggests that she’s been passed around from house to house, cemetery to cemetery, crematorium to crematorium. Every time she’s found, she appears good as new, only to attack her saviors.
Was this her original intent? To permanently cause the death and torture of anyone who messes with her body? Or was it meant as a defense mechanism to save her from death? Is she dead or undead? Is she trapped in some kind of astral, supernatural plane? It’s more likely that she said, “fuck these bitches, if I’m going out I’m going to make it good,” with no regard for the outcome of anyone, innocent or not, who ends up engaging with her.
At a point we get the classic ghost story plot: what are you trying to tell me about your death that will allow me to help you pass on? It’s a mechanism we hope works positively for Tommy and Austin, but ultimately does not. Jane is sadistic. She’s more concerned with punishing her offenders.
It’s this really that left me slightly dissatisfied. While I wouldn’t have wanted a flashback to her torture and trial where we feel a forced empathy, I would have liked something a bit more intriguing than she’s simply a witch who encased her own body in ritualistic elements that kill anyone who touches her.
I would have rather uttered, “Holy shit, that’s crazy!” than “Oh, okay, she’s a witch.”
But what would have made it more interesting? What would have happened if Tommy and Austin were able to destroy Jane’s body? Would this have given her some kind of release? Does it even matter? I honestly felt an homage to Silence of the Lambs (discovering the Jimson Weed was similar to the cocoon) and the concept of finding clues within the bodies of serial killers’ victims.
Except in this case Jane was the victim of others as well as of herself. Is she satisfied somewhere knowing that her assailants are punished and brutally killed? Or is she living in a state of purgatory? Or has she truly passed on to the next place with no regard for the body she’s left behind which has powers of its own?
Let’s focus on the good: the character development is great. In fact we spend almost the first half of the film building up Austin and Tommy only to witness their demise. I wish we could have felt this strong connection to Jane as well to give the story a deeper level of complexity.
There’s plenty of gore in the sense that we focus on forensic pathologists who spend their waking hours dissecting the dead. And the dead are then brought to life under the spell of Jane. There are dark hallways filled with fog and smoke and reanimated bodies lurking in the shadows.
But we also lack any kind of brutal death scenes. Most often we find the victim already dying after an obscured depiction of the attack. I’m not asking for torture porn here, but a little more explanation than, “I’m evil, and you’re going to die … somehow” would have been appreciated.
Emma’s death scene seems trivial with no clues to her struggle. We feel sympathy mainly for Austin, as we’ve developed more of a bond with him than her.
The autopsy process ends with the brain.
“That’s why we couldn’t find cause of death. She’s still alive!”
“We lit her on fire. We took out her heart.”
“There’s something. There’s some energy – call it what you want. Something is keeping her going.”
Leviticus 20:7: “Any man or woman who consults with the spirits of the dead shall be put to death. For they are a witch, and their blood shall be on their own hands.”
I do love that the pair have a vast library that they reference for botany, anatomy or any kind of historical information.
In one of the most brutal scenes, after Tommy implores Jane about helping her, he suffers his limbs and organs being broken and stolen – this is how Jane heals and reforms her body to look unharmed. As Tommy’s bones and joints are broken and torn, we see her incisions and disfigurations heal. We see her eyes return to a healthy brown from gray as the life fades from Tommy.
In the end, everyone dies. And we give it props for that element of darkness. All the reanimated bodies are back in their places when the police return to investigate.
Jane is off to another autopsy, in the same condition as she was originally found – seemingly flawless. The driver defuses his girlfriend, but Jane’s already fucking with the radio.
“Open up your heart, and let she sunshine in. Face it with a grin. Smilers never lose, and frowners never win. So let the sunshine in.”
What’s the significance of the song? Are we to think that Jane carries with her the souls of her taken victims, and that this is Tommy? Or is it just a random song from olden days that coincides with Tommy’s wife and somehow Jane? Or is it just plain creepy? Given that earlier we heard sounds of a struggle and warnings across the radio, it shouldn’t be ruled out that the radio communicates voices of those Jane has taken.
We end with the bell tinkle.
Good luck, Ruxton or VCU! You’re going to need it.
What do you think? Leave comments below, and thanks for reading!
“What do you want?”
“For people to not be assholes.”
Definitely worth a watch and now streaming on Netflix, I Don't Feel at Home Here Anymore is a film about missing elements – absent connections, stolen objects, fears, failures, incomplete desires, and our longing to fill those voids with something, or someone, tangible, hopeful and good. It’s also about the hollowness of suburban life, justice, the consequences of our choices, and accepting our places in this world. Filled with dark and often awkward humor, it travels down an offbeat path to a startling and thought-provoking conclusion.
This low-budget black comedy thriller stars Melanie Linskey as Ruth, a nursing assistant who is disillusioned and bored with her job. I enjoyed Linskey in XX but was disappointed with that film overall, so it’s nice to see her in a primary role and a more well-crafted film. Both Linskey and Elijah Wood shine in this film, Linskey with her misappropriated social anxiety and Wood with his eccentric kung fu antics and humor, and there’s also the welcome presence of Jane Levy, although vastly under-utilized.
The title comes from the country song “I Can’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore” (played later in the film) by Unity Road, and the setting and style suggest the story takes place somewhere in the south, possibly Louisiana.
We start with a patient dying, murmuring obscene sexual fantasies. This is Ruth’s daily life. She drinks a lot and hangs out at bars reading fantasy novels to presumably escape reality. When a rando guy realizes what she’s reading, he proceeds to ruin the series for her, robbing her of that one, great moment before casually slipping off without acknowledging his misdeed. We get the sense that Ruth has little to look forward to in life and often feels a victim.
She gets home (with a self-made “no dog poop” sign in the yard) to realize that she has been robbed and files a report with the police for her missing laptop, grandmother’s silver and medicine (Clonazepam and Lexapro – both used for treating anxiety and depression). The detective asks about location apps on the laptop, but she says it’s turned off.
He seems to blame Ruth for leaving her door unlocked as there’s no sign of forced entry, encourages her to improve her home security and dismisses the case as unimportant.
She calls her best friend, Trixie, and in a scene in which we think she’s condifing the “violation” of the robbery, which bothers her more than the stolen belongings, it turns out she’s actually in the midst of reading a bedtime story to Trixie‘s daughter. The bedtime story seems to only pique Ruth’s anxiety and fears, explaining the infiniteness of the universe, prompting her to tears and upsetting the child.
Over smoking a bowl, Ruth talks to Trixie about the patient who died earlier. She’s not affected by the woman’s death in particular but seems more concerned with the idea of people becoming dead bodies and ultimately ash or carbon. Her grandmother, a war nurse who Ruth admired, died of a stroke. This leads her back to the missing silver, the only tangible reminder of her deceased grandmother and the notion that people treat each other like shit.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m underneath a whirlpool, and I can’t even breathe.”
All this suggests that Ruth lives in a state of routine disappointment, suffers from anxiety and fear of the world around her and has been on the verge of snapping for some time. With her medicine now stolen, who’s to say whether or not this influences her eventual decision to stand up and fight the system, so to speak.
She spends the night, to the husband’s annoyance, and is awakened by the daughter, who’s sweetly drawn a picture of Ruth riding a stegosaurus. “I fucking love it.” We understand that Ruth craves empowerment.
Back at home, neighbor Tony, fantastically played by Elijah Wood, makes the mistake of allowing his dog, Kevin, to poop in Ruth’s shit-free yard. Ruth runs after him and hurls the magazine-wrapped turd at him. He’s clearly confused by Ruth’s offense, scoops the waste up and walks off.
Inside, Ruth cleans up and looks for clues of the robbers. After finding a broken light and footprint in her backyard, she makes a cast of it to determine the foot size then questions all the neighbors if they’ve seen anyone suspicious, but no one has any real leads.
Eventually she ends up at Tony’s, who’s in the backyard blasting rock music and pumping iron.
“That’s not me. Leaving a BM in your yard? That’s not who I am. I was embarrassed. Sometimes I just get so deep in my thoughts, ya know? And I don’t even notice what Kevin’s doing.”
He offers to let her hit him to balance the energy between them, which weirds her out. She tells him about the robbery, and he seems unnaturally angry from her news and smashes the corner of a table with his num-chuks.
Back at home, and of course drinking, Ruth fires up her location app to discover her laptop online and calls the police to inform them. But they can’t help her as they need a search warrant and only offer to add her information to the police report.
So she decides to take things into her own hands and checks out the address, where a group of young punks are hanging out and messing around with potato launchers in the front lawn. Afraid to confront them alone, she calls her best friend’s husband but ultimately ends up at Tony’s requesting his help.
Tony wears glasses, a rat-tail braid, a porn stache, and kisses his cross necklace in prayer before they exit the car. When the door man dismisses Ruth’s claim to her laptop inside, Tony pops him in the face with his num-chucks, then busts through the door, hurling his ninja star into the wall and tossing a firecracker on the floor.
Ruth uses the location app to sound an alarm from her laptop, on the table surrounded by the young punks. The group is in such disbelief that they calmly allow her to take it back while Ruth chastises them about their poor behavior. Turns out they bought the laptop from a consignment shop and have no idea where her silver or medicine is. They write the address down for her. Tony’s retrieval of his ninja star, now stuck in the wall, is pretty hilarious.
“That’s how hard I threw it.”
The rest of the night is spent drinking and dancing merrily. It seems Ruth and Tony make an unlikely pair, both feeling rejuvenated and positive after their successful confrontation. But who has her silver and her medicine?
Devon Graye plays Christian (appropriately named) who makes his rounds crashing parties and sneaking into houses to steal. Jane Levy plays Dez, a member of a drug-using group in the woods led by Marshall. Christian trades stolen jewels to get his fix. They seem to be headed toward some higher goal or plan.
“We’re almost there, my monkeys.”
Visiting the address the punks gave them, Tony says, “Maybe we should hold hands. Like we’re engaged.” There is definitely romantic interest at play.
But the old man running the junk shop seems a little eccentric and out of his gourd, wishing only to impress them with his keyboard. They do, however, find her silver stashed on a shelf in the back. Recovering it brings back visions of Ruth’s grandmother, but are we sure it’s actually her grandmother’s box? Or is she just latching onto what could be a suitable replacement? Is Sally Kimke her real grandmother? Or are the lack of medication and the circumstances driving her over the edge?
Ruth attempts to slip out but then notices the shoes of the young man visiting with the store owner. Recognizing him as her assailant, she follows him. The old man takes off after her demanding payment, but she dismisses him saying, “it’s stolen property.” She hits him in the face with the corner of the box when he grabs her arm. Immediately feeling sorry, she apologizes, but he responds by breaking her finger. Tony saves the day, hitting him in the face and bragging about his “side kick.”
After a visit to the hospital, Ruth is high on pain meds as Tony drives them home.
“What are we doing here – in the world?”
“Trying to be good. Or to be better.”
“Am I good?”
Ruth confesses a fear of death, saying everything is just going to be black like when you turn off the TV. He encourages her to visit his church, saying how funny the reverend is. They end up holding hands in the pews and later walking the dog down a street cast in golden sunset, the image of a happy couple. She later rests her head on his shoulder. This feels safe and warm.
Back with the gang of monkeys, they receive a bag of weapons. It’s a stick up, so apparently they’re planning a larger heist.
Tony and Ruth look up the tag number of Christian’s car from their visit to the junk yard the previous day. She discovers he’s reading the same fantasy novel, but he asks her not to spoil it for him – he hates that. They seem to be on the same wavelength.
After determining Christian’s identity, Ruth brings the detective the imprint of his shoe and the print-out of his info from Tony’s websurfing, but he dismisses her as having insufficient evidence and asks her if she’s been able to restart her medication.
“The world is bigger than your silverware. People are experiencing bigger problems.”
Then even the detective breaks down about his own issues – his wife is leaving him. And tells her to go home.
So they get a fake police badge from a box of Fruit Loops at the grocery store and take off once more on their own. Christian’s home is large and wealthy, and his front door is answered by a suzie homemaker type who is pleasant and friendly. Apparently this is his step mom. When questioned about Christian’s whereabouts, she implies that he has a history of bad decision making.
When served coffee, Tony charmingly brags about his barista skills from working at Borders.
“I got pretty good with the steamer. Could do smiley faces, winking faces. Certain kinds of centaurs, oak leaves, snowmen, diagram of an atom. Flaming swords, Kevin.”
Stepmom informs us that Chris Junior got into drugs and went to jail, then got involved with a bad group.
“He made me nervous. Did you ever see The Omen?”
Chris Senior comes home, and the bodyguard, Cesar, frisks Ruth and Tony. Husband and wife enter a domestic dispute. She admits she let them into the house because she’s bored while the bodyguard audibly and comically clears the remaining rooms of the house.
He questions them about their purpose for being in his home, and Ruth explains that she had intended to confront Chris Junior. “You can’t do that to people.” Chris Senior laughs at and berates her, asking what she expected to happen, and says, “People can do anything if you let them. Welcome to the world.”
When asked about a payoff, Ruth seems offended.
“What do you want?”
“For people to not be assholes.”
“You can tell yourself you did something here. Really took a stand.”
Ruth vandalizes the property as they leave empty-handed, disfiguring his topiary figures and stealing their tiger. Tony is angry with Ruth for stealing. She accuses him of not supporting her, mocking, “What would Jesus do?” He’s clearly offended, and now she’s pushed away her only real support system.
Back at home, Chris breaks into her house, and she (ironically) immediately hits him in the throat with the foot imprint. He runs off to the van of monkeys, but is hit by a bus before he reaches them. Ruth dials 911, but before she can finish her explanation, Dez bashes her in the face with the butt of a gun.
She awakens to Dez and Marshall cloaked in t-shirt masks.
“You have such beautiful black little eyes.”
When a crowd gathers outside as an ambulance wheels away Christian’s body, Tony visits Ruth’s house to find her missing.
Now things get crazy.
Dez and Marshall force Ruth to participate in their robbery. As it turns out, the house they’re robbing is Chris’ parents’. The stepmom yells at her for stealing her tiger. Dez blows off Chris Senior’s hand, and Marhsall shoots Cesar in the gut and neck while Ruth pukes all over the floor.
After raiding the safe in the fireplace, they’re about to finish everyone off, but Ruth steps in front of Dez, saying she’s not going to let them shoot anyone else and she’ll have to kill her first. Just as Dez is about to pull the trigger, she receives a ninja star to the face, courtesy of (who else?) Tony.
But the janky shotgun backfires in Dez’s hands, and then Marshall blasts Chris Senior in the head. Dez stabs Tony repeatedly in the gut, and Ruth fights with Marshall over his handgun. Bullets ricochet off the fireplace and hit Dez in the head, and Ruth knocks Marshall unconscious. Except he’s not. And he fires shots after them as they flee. The stepmom takes off, running down the road.
It’s a chase through the woods with Marshall yelling from behind. They find a boat docked on the shore of a lake and take off. Tony starts fading, and Ruth rows to the other side of the water, where she stashes Tony beneath some foliage and promises to come back for him.
Marshall is close behind and follows in another boat. She falls into a pool of water with a snake who slithers past yet she remains unharmed.
Finally Marshall tracks her down, leaving her vulnerable and weaponless except for the rocks on the ground.
“You do those tattoos yourself? They look fucking stupid.”
“What the fuck do you know? Have you ever eaten cat meat?”
She throws a rock at his forehead and then chest, landing him in the water she previously fell into, and he’s then bitten by the snake on the face. Ruth runs off to return to Tony while Marshall deals with the snake hanging from his cheek.
Fearing she’s lost in the woods, Ruth’s grandmother suddenly appears and points her in the right direction. Ruth carries Tony’s body back across the water in the boat while Marshall presumably dies alone in the woods.
Then the results unfold: The stepmom shakes her head when shown a picture of Ruth as a suspect by the police.
Ruth gets off without any criminal charges, and the detective tells Ruth he and his wife are going to try and work things out.
Ruth continues to go to Tony’s church, but it seems she’s still feeling an emptiness.
While sitting with Trixie and her daughter in her backyard she looks distracted.
“Just be gentle with yourself, alright? You’ve got all the time in the world.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s just something people say.”
Ruth has a vision of Tony encased in a red, smoky swirl … but it turns out it’s actually him, alive, and standing over the grill with her best friend’s husband. Yet we zoom in on Ruth’s disquieted face. Something is still missing.
We’re legitimately led to believe that Tony didn’t make it. The fact that he’s survived, and the group is gathering in a couples’ environment, leads us to conclude that Tony and Ruth are now together, and all should be well. That Ruth is going to church and attempting to better herself. But clearly Ruth is still missing something – dissatisfaction with her job, her life, her lovelife, her spirituality, her fears of death and the universe perhaps still present. And that’s what started us on this crazy goose-chase to begin with – the desire to reclaim what has been taken, or to overcome loss, and to embrace a sense of justice or purpose in the world. The real enemy here isn’t a robber or a rude and inconsiderate stranger, it’s our own selves and confronting and dealing with the losses and emptiness within us.
It’s also important to consider the character of Christian, who, as his father states, has been given every advantage and opportunity possible compared to 99% of the population. A boy who disregards this and chooses to be “bad” according to society contrasts with Ruth, a woman we presume has not been given as many advantages and opportunities – yet both feel dissatisfied and empty.
What did you guys think of I Don’t Feel at Home Here Anymore? Do you have suggestions for videos on streaming for us to discuss? Leave your comments below, and let us know your thoughts!