Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, Buster’s Mal Heart is a twisted psychological exploration of a person’s breaking point told by sifting through time and memory. It’s a moving dreamscape told through three seemingly parallel storylines.
As the film starts, you see a wild-eyed man resembling a crazed grizzly living in the mountains of Montana you don’t know exactly what’s going on but you realize something set him off. The stark setting and narration delivered via television reports swiftly clue you into the fact you’re watching a man living a deep paranoid dream yet somehow still aware enough to know how to come in out of the cold.
But almost immediately, you find yourself watching Jonah (Rami Malek) a man with a simple dream: to buy a piece of land and build a safe home for his family away from the chaos (and his mother-in-law).
To earn that dream, he works the overnight shift manning the front desk of a hotel. He’s a quiet, unassuming, severely sleep deprived, loving husband and father.
A late night encounter, at work, with a conspiracy-theory obsessed visitor who calls himself The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) and claims to live “off the grid,” sets Noah (you think) on path that ultimately pushes him past his leads to his unravelling.
With perfectly placed flashbacks and cut scenes, you discover how this simple man comes to be known as the deeply disturbed and conspiracy driven Buster. With aptly placed what drove him to wander the mountains hunted.
But in some other place and time, you see Jonah as a horribly dehydrated man floating in a rowboat adrift in a vast sea. He’s shouting at the moon and ranting in Spanish yet seemingly resigned to his fate.
All these men are one — but not — and all strangely linked in some tragic yet partially inexplicable way. Each mini story-arc imparts a new piece to the puzzle and stretches the veil between reality and hallucination ever thinner.
This film keeps you off balance and ultimately unsure if events actually occur how you see them or at all. It raises questions about perception, reality and the costs of living while believing the world may just be out to get you through a precise use of silence, tension, and startling revelations and deeply convoluted conspiracies.
It’s a beautifully rendered film where every scene and piece of dialogue creates an engrossing yet disturbing tale you’re never quite sure you’ve figured out.
Buster’s Mal Heart is ultimately the tale of being driven far past the breaking point to be left splintered and reeling in the aftermath. I watched this film more than once, and I’m still not convinced which sequence of events is actual reality. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Smith’s sophomore directorial offering is an existential quandary well worth the lingering questions and haunting feeling Jonah’s “whale” swallowed him whole but spit him out in pieces.
Buster’s Mal Heart had a limited theatrical release starting April 28, 2017 and is now available Video on Demand through most cable networks and streaming services.
An eccentric mountain man is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows, where he has acquired the nickname”Buster,” to rant about the impending Inversion at the turn of the millennium, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.
Stars: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith