Rami Malek appears to be cornering the market on head-trippy tales of conspiracy and identity. The Mr. Robot star here plays a survivalist called Buster, who as the 1999-set film begins is being cornered by law enforcement due to his habit of squatting in unoccupied vacation homes in the Montana mountains. But in flashback sequences we see him as Jonah, a night-shift hotel concierge with a wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) and young daughter dealing with sleeplessness and Y2K paranoia. The back-and-forth-in-time structure builds a sense of doom—it’s clear something ultimately separates Jonah from his family and turns him into Buster—as writer/director Sarah Adina Smith directs with ominous visual and sound design evoking David Lynch and the Coen brothers. Unlike those practitioners in fever-dream logic, however, Smith doesn’t craft the mystery of Jonah/Buster—evoking everything from Fight Club to The Rapture—in a compelling enough way to make it okay if the answer is enigmatic. It’s left to Malek’s haunted eyes to fill in the blanks, and as talented as he is, he doesn’t display enough of Buster’s heart to balance out how much you might be scratching your head.
Director: Sarah Smith
Producer: Jonako Donley, Travis Stevens, Dan Cogan, Geralyn White Dreyfous and Wendy Ettinger
Cast: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Sheil, Lin Shaye, Toby Huss, Mark Kelly, Teresa Yenque and Bruce Bundy