Buster's Mal Heart [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd July 2017).
The Film

Not destined to become a cult classic in spite of its stab at the sub-genre of Canadian indie weirdness capitalizing on the wide-eyed anxiety of Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) and DJ Qualls (Road Trip) pretty much playing a variation on himself. Living under the roof of his in-laws (Insidious' Lin Shaye and The Patriot's R.J. Burns), Jonah (Malek) dreams of living self-sufficiently on a chunk of land owned outright while his former addict wife Marty (You're Next's Kate Lyn Sheil) is just thinking about just getting by from one day to the next with her rehab-based religiosity. Working the night shift as a concierge at a resort hotel, Jonah is having difficulty sleeping during the day and is abusing caffeine and watching late night TV just to stay awake. One night, he wakes to find at the front desk a man who describes himself as "the last free man" (Qualls) asking for a room for the night but offering none of the required identification. Over drinks and vending machine snacks, he reveals that he is a computer systems engineer of the "exterminator" variety, rooting out bugs in a system before the upcoming Y2K (to be fair, there is actually is nothing to suggest that this film is set back that far in the past nor is there anything glaringly post-2000 in the wardrobe, props, or set design). Although Jonah does not quite buy the conspiracy theorist's claims that Y2K will trigger "the inversion" jokingly when the world gets sucked up into its own asshole but actually signifying a shift in the world back towards barbarism he does find someone who is able to articulate his feelings about being enslaved in a cycle of financial dependency signified by his own wife's putting off what he thought was their shared ideal of living off the land in favor of just getting out of her parents' house into an apartment and paying rent when they should be saving up to buy land. Jonah opens up to the stranger, and they cook up a plan for the latter to steal items that will not be missed from the various guests (who often must stop at the hotel overnight when the weather conditions make it impossible for them to drive or fly up to their vacation homes on the mountain. Jonah's own sense of right and wrong gets the better of him, however, and he parts ways with the man without collecting his half of the takings. When his boss discovers his caffeine abuse, he proposes instead of switching Jonah over to the daytime shift as he had requested that Jonah should have a "staycation" and invite his wife and daughter to share one of the junior suites so that he can spend time with them when he is not working (which is usually when he is sleeping). When the stranger reappears, however, and begs a room for the night, setting off a chain of events that finds Jonah on the run from a police manhunt.

At one point late Buster's Mal Heart, Jonah finds himself standing before a literal fork in the road, and it appears that one of the forks is a storyline messily intercut with Jonah's family life: that of Jonah as a mountain man known as Buster for his conspiracy-filled radio call-up rants who has lived off the land during the summer and broken into vacation homes during the winter to survive. The other fork is less clear, as it does not appear to be Jonah's normal life, nor does it appear to be cutaways to Jonah lost at sea in a lifeboat. In the fashion of most post-millennial thrillers dependent on the faulty memory or the psychotic break of the unreliable protagonist, the through-path of the parallel stories leads to the fracturing of the new identity built up by Jonah and forces him to face what actually happened (with the help of some "objective" contradiction of his memories) and the film bluntly cuts to a labeled "epilogue" that no amount of quirky song selections will make satisfactory. The film is well-shot and appropriately gloomy-looking and the pacing is "measured" to say the least, but the problem with the film's heaping on of visual and aural symbolism (the many associations of portals, cores, orifices, and the "belly of the whale" to "inversion") is not that it is meaningless, but that it is half-baked and not so much thought-provoking as meant to be stimulating in the absence of clarity on behalf of the filmmaker. This is the second feature of promising Sarah Adina Smith whose genre-tinged debut The Midnight Swim was also an attempt at mind-bending that was much more interesting if not entirely successful.

Video

Well Go's single-layer Blu-ray delivers a very strong 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen image with a muted palette suited to the drabness of Jonah's life and the wintry setting but detail is quite good in close-ups, wider shots with good depth-of-field, the snowy and rocky exteriors, and the rustic interiors. The more expert grading of the image probably has more to do with how good the film looks on disc than the encode.

Audio

The disc features two audio tracks: a full-bodied DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is front-oriented in terms of dialogue and effects with music making more use of the surrounds, as well as a serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo downmix. Only one subtitle track is offered in English SDH even though there is Spanish dialogue that would have no translation unless the track were turned on.

Extras

The only extras are a selection of deleted scenes that not particularly add or detract from the finished film (apart from a bit with the daughter's pet frog that gives a bit more resonance to a shot much later in the film, if only because I did not really notice references to the pet earlier in the film itself), as well as a teaser (1:23), trailer (2:15), as well as previews that also play as start-up trailers.

Overall

 


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