Macon Blair, once upon a time, starred in writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's 2013 indie thriller Blue Ruin, and this is surely what he's still best known for. That's not to cast an aspersions against Blair, who's great in that movie, and it's not to slight his directorial debut, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. It does, however, go a long way towards explaining why IDFAHITWA - or maybe we'll just go with I Don't Feel... - takes the specific form it does. The film, winner of the dramatic feature Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, has charms all its own, but it's next to impossible not to look at it as something of a fantasia on a theme by Saulnier. Like Blue Ruin, I Don't Feel... is a revenge thriller cut with a goofy black comedy; both films share a visual aesthetic of poetic American regionalism ร  la David Gordon Green, though with rather more intensely-colored, starkly-lit images than say Green, or Kelly Reichardt, or David Lowery; both films give the impression of being loosely-assembled hang-out movies right up until the moment that they explode in frenzied bloodletting.

The big difference between the two, and it proves to be definitive I'd say, is that I Don't Feel... is substantially more of comedy with thriller aspects, while Blue Ruin is a thriller that happens to have a sense of humor. It's down to the individual viewer which of those is to be preferred, though if there's anything that proves that I Don't Feel... deserves more than to be lazily identified as a Saulnier clone, surely its ragged comic tone is it. To a certain degree, all this does is to redistribute the chain of influences, for what the movie resembles, even more than it does Saulnier's work, is the early career of Joel and Ethan Coen, back when their filmography consisted almost exclusively of morbid crime tragicomedies about hapless idiots inciting savage violence in the quirky corners of the United States (I Don't Feel... particularly resembles what I think we'd have gotten if Fargo had immediately followed Blood Simple in the Coens' canon). Particularly once the violence starts in earnest, and we see how massively ill-equipped the protagonists are to be protagonists.

But that's still not fair to Blair, whose script is, if not hardly the freshest thing to ever come down the pike, still brightly-paced and winningly pleasurable. At a slender 93 minutes, I Don't Feel has no more content than it ought to, and treats the content it has with no more gravity than it must, and the result is a film that remains upbeat and fun even when it's grappling with actual, like, stuff. Which is the other thing that we need to be fair about: Blair, as both writer and director, has a keen sense for character, even as his supporting cast is made up more of the absurdist gargoyles of a Coen picture rather than the finely-described locals that you'd expect from a Sundance prizewinner.

As for the main duo, they're altogether terrific, particularly Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a nursing assistant who lives alone in a fading suburb of wherever this is meant to be set (it was filmed in Oregon, but has the deliberately placelessness of so many American indies). She's shy, socially awkward, and taking medication for depression, and not to belabor a point, but it's rather clear that she doesn't feel at home in this world anymore - if, in fact, she ever did, which seems at least worth debating. Comes a day when her home is burglarised, and the solitary place where this sad woman has ever felt in control of anything is despoiled. When the cops, led by the kindly, condescending Detective William Bendix (Gary Anthony Williams), openly telegraph that they're not actually interested in getting her stuff back, or paying attention to her obvious emotional distress, a little something snaps inside Ruth. Thus it is that she joins up with her wildly eccentric neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, rendered invisible by the makeup, hair, and costume departments), a pathetic martial arts enthusiast whose fashion sense stopped evolving around 1983, strongly suggesting the grown-up version of Napoleon Dynamite, to go on a quest for revenge.

Whatever greatness attains to I Don't Feel..., it mostly hangs around Ruth, who's really quite a superb character. How much of that belongs to Blair, and how much to Lynskey, I couldn't say and don't suppose I'd care to. The end result is what matters, and the end result is out-and-out sublime: a snapshot of depression as the state of not caring, rather than the state of being sad, which is already a nimble enough balancing act for both the actor and the filmmaker. And then the story injects a thing for her to care about, and that, rather than the revenge itself, is what drives Ruth and makes her movie an unexpectedly substantial character study.

I think it would be hard to over-praise Lynskey for her work here: the actor has been reliably trouping around for ages, ever since her fiery debut in 1994's Heavenly Creatures was overshadowed by the immediate, stratospheric rise of co-debutante Kate Winslet, but outside of Gay Film Twitter, it doesn't seem that anybody has been paying attention to all of her sterling performances in too-small roles in otherwise under-impressive movies. I can't say that I Don't Feel... is either her biggest role nor splashiest in the 23 years since Heavenly Creatures, but it's certainly a brilliant showcase for everything she does best: flawless comic timing deployed as self-defeating sarcasm; offering an extreme of pathos without being pathetic, or indeed sympathetic, necessarily. We like Ruth, God knows, and I think plenty of us could fairly easily identify with Ruth, but Ruth has some pretty unfortunate behavioral quirks that the film and Lynskey both hold her accountable for. It's a quiet piece of character building, especially impressive given how many different emotions flicker through the performance, and it makes Ruth a uniquely engaging, strong centerpiece for the film's tour of an America where everything is damn unfair and for no apparent reason.

I Don't Feel... doesn't go as all-in on social commentary as that implies; it has a righteous indignation at the pettiness of the well-to-do, but its focus is on the individual rather than the world around them. And the individuals are beautifully described: everything about Ruth; or the way that Tony is, layer by layer, given human depth instead of just the cartoon characteristics we notice in his early scenes; or the surprising number of grace noted provided to Detective Bendix throughout the movie (including one teeny-tiny beat where he pauses himself in the middle of a rant to agree with Ruth that "it's awful", the kind of throwaway character moment that transforms a fine movie into an excellent one) speak to Blair's interest in his cast as people with personalities and backstories.

When the film does expand its scope, it's solely to evoke the small community: how two heads are better than one, even when both heads are a little bit broken; how it's better to have support from friends than go it alone. Without giving away anything about the generous final scene of the film, I Don't Feel... turns into a surprisingly Christian film, in the old-fashioned Americana sense of the word "Christian" - the nice group of nice people who go to church not out of any spiritual ecstasy but because the church is where the other nice people go who'll have your back when you need it, and whose back you'll have when they need it. It's a casual, totally unforced vision of strength in community that's rare in American cinema and perhaps rarest in the revenge thriller subgenre, a form that thrives on lone wolves; but keeping in mind that I Don't Feel... is a story of overcoming depression that only wears the clothes of a thriller, it's exactly the right place for the story to end up.