Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart is one of the best, most striking and unique films I have seen in some time for exactly the reasons it might be one of the most frustrating, maddening experience for other viewers. This film is like a Rubik’s Cube except it’s not square, all the pieces are the same colour and they’re all in different time zones. It’s a complex, dreamy, intangible, non-traditional narrative full of idiosyncratic asides, shifting plane storytelling, non linear abstraction and all sorts of brilliant filmmaking wizardry and it cast a spell on me I can’t quite describe in writing. Rami Malek and his perpetually glazed faraway gaze play Buster, a deeply troubled family man who works night shift at a desolate highway motel, the perfect breeding ground for psychological unrest to creep in and do some real damage. What *does* creep in is a mysterious stranger who calls himself The Last Free Man, played by eternally boyish, gnome looking curio DJ Qualls. This guy pays in cash to stay off the grid, raves about impending Y2K and foretells an event called the Inversion, which will forever alter time and space as we know it. Fast forward some years and Buster is a maniacal bearded homeless waif who breaks into empty vacation homes in the Montana mountains and tries to piece together his identity, his past and future to no avail as authorities close in. You can’t really describe this film in terms of plot because it’s not about that, it’s about mood, feeling, disorientation and atmosphere, all of which are my cup of tea over logic and plot structure. Director Sarah Adina Smith is a brilliant artist who uses strange, otherworldly editing techniques, coaxes bizarre, darkly humorous performances from her actors and whips up a world from which there is no cognitive escape for the duration of your stay. The positively extraterrestrial original score by Mister Squinter is amazing too. This isn’t a film to be understood though, it is one to be felt and later deciphered. You know when you wake up from a particularly elaborate and thoroughly profound dream, then you sit there trying to collect pieces of it using conscious thought processes and you simply cannot get them in line because they are not of this world? That’s how I felt immediately after this film, as the experience washed over me and although I knew deep down where it’s essential what this film means, I couldn’t explain it in waking terms or paint that meaning in anything outside subconscious awareness. If you enjoy challenging stuff like the work of David Lynch, Guy Maddin or other artists who successfully employ dream logic in cinema (not an easy thing to do) then you’ll love this enigmatic, indistinct yet achingly specific gem.
If Tales From The Crypt were set in the Deep South with more of a pulp crime vibe, you’d get Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles, a sweaty, sleazy anthology mixup with one legendary ensemble cast and a deliberative effort to disturb the audience at every turn. Segmented into three zany outings, each one connected to a shady pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, by a different specific item each time. In the first it’s a shotgun which passes through a few different meth addled hands, as two strung out junkies (Paul Walker and Lukas Haas) foolishly try to rob their cook/dealer (Norman Reedus, but it could have been anyone because you literally never see his face). This is one grease-ball comedy of errors, as these two morons are way too high to actually get anything done, their feverish efforts culminating in a noisy Mexican standoff, an enjoyable bit especially to see Walker playing way against type. The second story is the most perversely extreme, as we see Matt Dillon and his new bride buying a wedding ring from the very same shop. Suddenly he recognizes another ring that belonged to his missing ex wife and gets all determined to track her down. This leads him to the home of clean cut yuppie Elijah Wood, who of course is anything but innocent and one ups his depraved character in Sin City, no easy task if you’ve seen that film. Speaking of one upping, director Kramer seems to be trying to outdo himself and churn out a story more sickening than the infamous ‘Hansel and Gretel’ sequence in his crime masterpiece Running Scared. While not quite as effective as that, this midsection will make many squirm and have you nervously eyeing both the door and the spot on the seat in front of you where a barf bag should be. The third and silliest tale sees Brendan Fraser as a sad-sack Elvis impersonator who can’t hold down a gig. It’s odd because this sequence is sort of pleasant even, Fraser being his usual affable self makes you feel vaguely comforted after the heinous happenings in the previous Matt Dillon bit. I wish I could rave about this flick, but there’s a few inconsistencies; some of the writing is shallow and disengaged, and in other spots it tries to hard to be shocking, while in Running Scared, for example, that just came organically somehow. However, it’s never short on entertainment value and you certainly won’t forget it anytime soon after. Plus there’s even more actors in the impressive lineup including DJ Qualls, Pell James, Kevin Rankin, Sam Jennings, Matt O Leary, Michael Cudlitz, Ashlee Simpson and Thomas Jane as a mysterious cowboy apparition. The very concept of a southern themed, vaguely horror anthology set around a pawn shop is brilliant though, and this almost seems ripe for an episodic streaming pickup, via Netflix or the like.