Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) – Review

At this point in Indiewood cinema, this is utter trite.

Director/Writer/Editor: Sarah Adina Smith
Starring: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Toby Huss

I was intrigued to hear the term Y2K; I’ve always thought there would’ve been great dramatic potential in such a historical blundering moment of our time, but, sadly, as was the conclusion of Y2K, Buster’s story is just one long build up to a big wet fart. In fact, there’s a lot of vapid stuff in the empty void of Buster’s Mal Heart; a sprinkling of neat, albeit under-developed ideas; a handful of conventionally superficial shots – though most were overly simplistic, uninspired hand held recordings of drama with no emotional substance whatsoever. Oh, and the tree porn was good… lotta trees up in them mountains… that was neat. And the science elements were slightly interesting, despite being tragically suffocated by the “character study” of the borderline cliché, totally not Jesus, Johan (Rami Malek). And, well that’s about it. Underwhelming, I know.

As slow burners go, this is stagnancy at its longest. Sarah Adina Smith, the director, tries to be the millennial indie cinema’s version of Stanley Kubrick. His influences are plentiful, most prominently recognised in the bar scene between Jonah and The Terminator(?). Since The Terminator’s part in the film is so easily predictable, we’re already ahead of the reveal that he’s not really there, he’s imaginary. Here, they trade in paranoias for a while and it plays like a textbook from The Overlook Hotel. Oh, did I forget to mention that Johan also works in a hotel? Yep, it’s that on the nose. Had the scene done anything at all, besides saunter smugly in its artistic fraudulence, I might have enjoyed the homage. But it’s barely a homage, I’m close to accusing Smith of plain theft. Truth be told, the film reeks of The Shining, in atmosphere and its slowly stirring narrative – and the carpets! Can’t forget the carpets. They’re positively direct out of the Overlook Hotel furniture catalogue. Buster’s Mal Heart is the worst case of identity theft I’ve ever seen in independent cinema. I am truly hard pressed to believe how this isn’t someone’s film school project. I guess anyone can make a surrealist drama now and pass it off as “artistic”.

With every pawn introduced, the film convinces itself more and more that it’s teasing you. It isn’t. You see the nameless weirdo and you know he’s the other half of Jonah’s dichotomy. After seeing Jonah alone in the wilderness, you see the wife and kids and you already know that they’re already dying at some point. You hear the prophecy about the universe imploding up its own arsehole and you know the writer probably will too. And sure, there’s probably some Primer like explanation for all the scattered bullshit, but who gives a fuck. Primer was fascinating by the snowball of confusion that spirals from the unexplored depths of casually discovered time travel. Buster’s Mal Heart wants you to believe that it’s obvious symbolism is harder to predict and deconstruct than it really is. It’s almost offensive.

Adina Smith, doing the age old trope of movie cross-comparison, referred to the film as Bad Santa meets Donnie Darko. Fuck. Right. Off. What part of this is Bad Santa? The pseudo-intellectual jibberish, that’s Donnie Darko all over – although, Smith has clearly missed what makes Richard Kelly’s masterpiece so masterful, but nevermind. With the Bad Santa remark, I have no idea other than it being severely bland and disengaging (which worked for something as ironic Bad Santa, but not here). What’s worse is that Buster’s Mal Heart works best when it’s daring to be original, when it slips into re-run territory then it begins to ache with flatness. When thinking about the review, I felt dreadful with the idea that the director is unsure what her inspirations are, and how to use them – perhaps this could have easily been a great film, had she gambled within the genre more often.

As it stands, Buster’s Mal Heart plays like a writing prompt on some creepypasta forum site. r/creepypastaprompts or something around the idea.

If you’d like, you can fight me on Twitter @JoeFilmJourno


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