A family man’s chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter leaves him on the run from the police and an impending event known as The Inversion.
As an independent filmmaker for the past thirty years, I can tell you the difference between indie movies and studio productions. As an indie filmmaker, you can make your movie be about anything you want, you can shoot it however and whatever way you choose, basically, you are the boss and you can do whatever you want with your film. Studio productions, however, especially the bigger budget flicks, need to follow a specific pattern, one that the viewer is accustomed to and you don’t want to veer too much off track, otherwise, you risk alienating your audience. Unfortunately, some indie filmmakers take advantage of the aforementioned situation and deviate so much, the final product is an incoherent and baffling train wreck. And that is the scenario with “Buster’s Mal Heart,” a decent effort to try and tell the clichéd and familiar story of a man fed up with his life and who wants to do something about it. Unfortunately, director Sarah Adina Smith, in her second feature film directorial effort, mires the story with a plethora of unnecessarily long and tedious shots of characters doing nothing, sometimes staring into blank space, and, in general, moping around like zombies. In fact, I feel the only way this movie could have been saved was if actual zombies appeared but the ones on display here, exemplify boredom at its very worst.
Buster (Rami Malek) is the night-shift concierge at a hotel in a sleepy Colorado town. He lives with his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and young daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter) at Marty’s mother’s house while they try to save up to buy a plot of land where they dream of building their own house. Buster feels that his life is stuck in neutral, when he comes home from work to sleep, his wife and daughter are up and about and when he has to go back out to work, they are heading to bed. One night, while things are extremely slow at work, a stranger comes in and asks for a room. He calls himself the Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) and carries no ID or credit cards. He offers to pay with cash and Buster, intrigued by the man, obliges. To try and speed up his financial income, the two work together to steal from wealthy guests but with a close call from Buster’s manager, he kicks the man out and ends their working relationship. The man returns a few days later, looking the worst for wear and asks for a room for one night before he leaves town the next morning. Again, Buster grants him permission for the one night and over the course of the evening, the man talks about a big event called The Inversion, which he says will take place on the eve of 1999, and that it will be even bigger that Y2K. He tells Buster it will be the next big bang, and that it will affect everyone on earth.
When Buster returns to his room the next morning where his wife and daughter have been staying with them, he finds their bloodied bodies lying in the bed and with the man having stayed in the room right next to them, he finds no trace of him. After calling the police, he is questioned and informs them about the man. When they look back at all the video footage from the previous night, they find no proof that a man appeared, thus, giving Buster, and the viewer, pause for thought. If the man didn’t kill them, then who did? Maybe it was Buster, fed up with everything and blaming his family for holding him back in life. Soon thereafter, he goes on the run, where he stays at random empty vacation homes, spread out around the snow-capped valley. We follow him as he moves from house to house, staring out large windows, with flashbacks to his previous life, and visions of him far out to sea on a small boat.
The problem with the movie is that we never really get a chance to understand or sympathize with Buster. We are introduced to him at his job, we then see him at home with his family, and the film then goes back and forth, instilling into us, the fact that Buster is desperate to change his life but seems reluctant to do anything about it. He complains and shouts and roars about how useless he feels and that his life is going nowhere but then when things get quiet, he stares into nothingness, and half the time, we are not told what is on his mind, we just see him sitting at his desk, or looking out a window, the blank stare on his face quickly rubbing off on the viewer. The movie is beautifully shot and director Sarah Adina Smith and cinematographer Shaheen Seth capture the spirit and essence of Kalispell, Montana in gorgeous detail. Rami Malek, better known as Elliot Alderson on USA Network’s “Mr. Robot,” gives an earnest performance, especially in the scenes where he discovers the bodies of his dead wife and daughter. Unfortunately, these are the only moments throughout the entire film where we can relate to him and what he is going through. Now imagine if the rest of the movie followed this template.
Available on Blu-ray & DVD Tuesday, July 18th