We’re Dying Hard & Blogging Free this month which sometimes allows us to pick the weird and wonderful films we’re had just kicking about on the outskirts of our consciousness. This one kept popping up on various lists and on Netflix, and looked interesting which is what brings us to the here and now.
I think maybe if I’d known more going in I would have either chosen it for Anxiety August or avoided it altogether, which isn’t to say it’s bad, just darker than expected.
Buster’s Mal Heart (2016)
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.
Buster (Rami Malek) is an elusive mountain man, on the run from the authorities for breaking into vacant holiday homes and rinsing them of food and amenities while their owners are away. He’s considered armed and dangerous despite the fact he leaves the homes as he’s found them and doesn’t really cause too much shit, though he does have a penchant for calling the local radio station and ranting about the Y2K.
Our film opens with a shoot out between Buster and the aforementioned authorities, which very much suggests that they were right about his danger rating but how did he get here? Luckily, via the medium of flashback we’re about to find out exactly how and why. Buckle up, bitches and enjoy the ride.
In another lifetime it seems, Buster used to be Jonah, hardworking and loving husband to Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and father of a little girl (who’s name I couldn’t be bothered to recall). He works nights at a hotel that at best could be described as past its prime and the shifts are taking their toll on his mental health and causing friction with his family.
Marty and Jonah live with Marty’s parents and Marty’s mum Pauline (Lin Shaye) in particular disapproves of this arrangement, the couples’ parenting skills and Jonah in general. (These scenes are hard to watch as you can feel the passive aggression dripping from the screen). Things aren’t good and get pricklier still when Marty lets slip she’s been looking for apartments for the young family, which isn’t part of the plan Jonah has for them.
Things change when Jonah meets The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls), a mysterious drifter who comes to the hotel one night. TLFM doesn’t use a traditional name, carries no ID and manages to wangle a room out of Jonah against hotel policy. He is also a conspiracy theory obsessive with a bee in his bonnet about the turn of the century and how much the Millennium Bug is going to fuck shit up.
As the men get closer, they concoct a plan to subtly rob the hotel guests and things are going great until they almost get caught. Jonah freaks out and the friends are forced to part company. Meanwhile, Jonah is turned down for a transfer to day shifts. His boss tries to make amends by letting his family enjoy a stay-cation at the hotel one weekend, but Jonah is expected to carry out his normal tasks at the same time.
Jonah’s story is inter-spliced with visions of him stranded alone at sea and we flit between past and present in a bid to unravel the truth about how he got to be living off the grid and off the land. Unfortunately, it soon transpires that something terrible has happened to his family that may or may not be connected to his friendship with The Last Free Man.
I won’t go any deeper into how it all turns out because I knew nothing going in and was therefore surprised by some of the events which I think is a good thing with a film like this. In places it’s a slow burner but hopefully you’ll be intrigued enough to want to find out where it’s going.
At times it’s a little heavy handed on the metaphors but for me it was an interesting rumination on mental health and a fractured psyche. Oh, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning.
4/5. For the fact it surprised me.