And he thought E Corp was bad.
Mr. Robot star Rami Malek has even less of a lead on sanity than usual in Buster’s Mal Heart, as he inhabits at least three timelines. In one, he’s Jonah, a hotel concierge with an adorable young daughter and a kind wife, and ohmigod it’s heartbreaking because he doesn’t have them in the other timelines so something bad is probably going to happen. In another, he’s Buster, a mountain man who breaks into rich peoples’ empty holiday homes and calls in to talk radio raving about an oncoming apocalypse. In yet a third, he’s a Robinson Crusoe type in rags and dreadlocks, lying in a boat adrift, speaking Spanish and getting a leathery tan from the unflinching sun.
Did Jonah become Buster, or is there a far stranger explanation? An unnamed, paranoid man on the run (DJ Qualls, looking like he could be the BFG’s emo kid) asks Jonah for a room for the night, then starts plotting mini-thefts of guest jewelry with him. But his conspiracy theories prove alienating…at least until they also become contagious, possibly fueling the creation of Buster in some form or another.
Sarah Adina Smith’s accomplished second feature is worthy to stand alongside other “apocalypse maybe” thrillers like The Rapture, Take Shelter, and Bug, with Malek an appropriate successor to Michael Shannon as the soon-to-be typecast Crazy Guy Who Speaks Truth. Doom and disorientation are omnipresent, but like Jonah/Buster, you’ll want–nay, need–to press onward and discover the final revelation.
[Editor’s note: At the request of AFI Fest, this review has been limited to capsule-length]
4 out of 5 Burritos
Image: Gamechanger Films/AFI Fest Publicity