I’ll never forget the first time I saw Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko as a teenager back in 2002. A fellow classmate of mine recommended it to me, and said it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. I watched the film at a friend’s house, and after the movie we just sat there in silence, unable to fully comprehend what we’d just seen. That film left me with so many questions, and I have fond memories of going on AOL message boards and discussing the film with other fans. We’d dissect certain scenes, share our personal theories, and generally go way overboard over a film that, in retrospect, probably didn’t merit all of that intense speculation, but I was still having a blast over it. In 2004 Kelly released a Director’s Cut that blatantly unraveled all of the mysteries and intrigue the theatrical cut had accumulated. It seemed like all of our questions had been answered and there was nothing left up for debate. It kind of ruined the film for me; the whole appeal was trying to figure it all out on my own. Buster’s Mal Heart is a phenomenal mindfuck movie. It masterfully tells a solid story with so many twists and turns that it reminded me of being back in 2002 wanting to investigate deeper into the ambiguities and strange imagery. I actively want to show Buster’s Mal Heart to all of the people I know just so we can dissect it all and share our theories with one another. I miss that camaraderie, and this film made me feel nostalgic.
“Buster’s Mal Heart is a phenomenal mindfuck movie.”
Written and Directed by filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith, Buster’s Mal Heart opens with an introduction to Buster, a creepy mountain man played by Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek. It’s established that Buster likes to call into radio stations and leave ominous warnings about an upcoming apocalyptic event called The Inversion. Buster spends a great deal of his time breaking into the vacation homes of millionaires just to do weird s**t like turn their family photos upside down and steal winter clothes. The film then cuts to the past where Buster is living his life as Jonah, a loving Father and husband who works as a concierge at a hotel that houses millionaires that get snowed in on their way to their vacation houses. One strange night, Jonah meets an oddball guy who refers to himself as “The Last Free Man” (played by DJ Qualls). It’s then that you realize we’re seeing Buster’s prequel story juxtaposed with his current life. The film constantly goes back and forth between the time periods…are they time periods? Alternate universes? Something else? I really have no idea, these are but a tease of the many questions this film will have you asking.
“The ending had me scratching my head, but again it’s one of those refreshing incidences where you don’t feel cheated…”
The entire cast is superb; Rami Malek plays a frighteningly unhinged snow hermit that’s just as captivating and strong as his “normal” Father/Husband counterpart. It’s truly fascinating to watch Jonah’s downward spiral into lunacy, paranoia, and tragedy. He plays the two parts distinctive from one another, but there are moments where you see Buster crack into the Jonah persona, and vice versa. Kate Lyn Sheil plays Marty, Jonah’s wife. She’s a loving Mother, and her and Malek have amazing chemistry with each other. There are scenes where the two bicker and fight that feel disturbingly authentic. DJ Qualls is perfect as the batshit crazy conspiracy theorist known throughout the duration of the film only as “The Last Free Man”. I loved watching his insane rhetoric seep into Jonah’s brain and influence his actions and attitude towards the other characters. He’s this drifter who spits out dangerous anarchic babble that can come off as surprisingly convincing at times.
The film has some really impressive visuals, especially when things get pretty nutty. I love the snowy mountain setting and the muted colors that take place during Buster’s scenes. The ending had me scratching my head, but again it’s one of those refreshing incidences where you don’t feel cheated, you just feel like you want to watch the film again because you might have missed some clue that explains everything. Maybe the film isn’t as vague and mysterious as I thought? Maybe the answers in fact do reveal themselves upon repeated viewings? Maybe there are no answers, and it’s purely up to the audience’s imagination? I cannot wait to discuss this film with others who have seen it and enjoyed the experience. Sarah Adina Smith is an amazing filmmaker who has an incredibly promising future ahead of her, and I absolutely believe that Buster’s Mal Heart is a magnificent film worthy of a Donnie Darko level cult following.
Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) Written and Directed by: Sarah Adina Smith. Starring: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Lin Shaye, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Teresa Yenque.