Fresh from the flourishing department of lost souls comes writer-director Macon Blair’s queer little caper of a movie that opens with a nifty screwball flourish and concludes with reflections on cat meat. Not food, meat. Ruthie (a very credible Melanie Lynskey) is a nursing assistant with awkwardness to spare and a less-than-sanguine view of life (“none of it matters…”). She goes home one day to find her home vandalized, computer and her grandmother’s silverware stolen. Cops are no use; they merely spew condescending platitudes and themselves behave like hostile lunatics. A true believer in the idea that people should “not be assholes,” Ruthie by chance teams up with Christian Ninja neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) in what turns into a maladroit but increasingly fraught hunt for the perpetrators.
Half of the film views like lower case Coen Brothers in the “Fargo/Lebowski” vein: absurd people who stretch known sanity to the limit, occasionally overstepping into the great and kooky beyond. But Blair drops all restraint when Ruthie and sidekick Tony actually find the culprits — who in turn are planning a larger heist. All drollery is pulverized amid guns, gore, forest chases and corpses. The weird turns wicked on a dime. And even shocked but revved up Ruthie can’t resist a little mayhem.
This is a breaking point movie. Blair is interested in what pushes people, oddball by definition, to the edge and beyond. At the same time it also assumes that the “beyond” is a life constant, an already morally carbonized landscape just waiting for its latest dose of human nutrition. “What are we doing here… the world,” asks Ruthie, and she’s not kidding. Blair’s reply is that some of us have eaten cat meat, some not, but all of us can find turn bestial in a flash.