Buster’s Mal Heart (2016)

Buster’s Mal Heart
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Cast: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Lily Gladstone
Seen on: 9.9.2021

Buster (Rami Malek) has made a name for himself by taking over summer holiday homes during winter. He’s been at it for years and has managed to evade capture so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Before that, he used to be Jonah. Jonah worked as a night receptionist in a hotel, trying to care for his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter). But the constant night-shifts and the lack of sleep were starting to get to him. To get through the dreary nights, he starts talking to a guest who simply refers to himself as The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) and believes that The Inversion is coming.

I saw Sarah Adina Smith’s first film The Midnight Swim many years ago, but it’s really one of those films that absolutely stayed with me. So, when I realized that her second film – Buster’s Mal Heart – was available on Netflix, I had to watch it immediately. And while it wasn’t quite as captivating as The Midnight Swim for me, it was absolutely captivating enough.

The film poster showing Buster (Rami Malek), his face distorted as if caught on a crappy videotape.

Buster’s Mal Heart is a strange beast of a film. What appears to be a rather standard story about a man who just fell apart somehow becomes weirder and weirder the longer it goes on. Starting with the fact that it tells at least three stories about at least three different versions or moments of Jonah/Buster, to the theory of The Inversion that is outlandish even for an apocalyptic prophecy. In fact, it’s so outlandish, it’s impenetrable – and I’m unsure whether it actually is an apocalypse at all.

There are Christian themes all over the film, making me wonder whether a Christian could mine the film for even more depth than I could. But in any case, it seems to draw a connection between conspiracy theories and religion, as if wondering where one starts and the other begins (without, I think, disparaging belief itself).

Buster (Rami Malek) with long hair and a long beard, both shaggy, in the forest.

The film does wonders in character building, really. There are many hints about Jonah’s past, but also in his present that prepare later developments – but only in hindsight. The only thing that didn’t work so well for me was the final twist about him and The Last Free Guy – by that I mean that the twist itself was a little obvious, although I liked what Smith did with it narratively. Malek gives the role his all, and manages to give the different stages of Jonah their own life each. I did think it is a pity, though, that they didn’t cast a latino in the role, since Jonah is latino (the casting choice seems to imply that Brown is Brown, as if there was no difference between being from an Egyptian family or a Latinx family).

But other than that, I really enjoyed going on this wild ride with Jonah. It’s a pity that I saw the film alone at home, though. Not only because I think it would have fit perfectly into the SLASH Filmfestival program, but also because it is a film that wants talking about afterwards, discussing possible interpretations and thoughts. Well, maybe you’ll watch it after reading this review and let me know what you think about it.

Buster (Rami Malek) smiling at Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) who is hanging up a curtain..

Summarizing: weird in the best way.

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