The new movie Buster’s Mal Heart has a lot going on. Rami Malek plays Buster, a loner who lives on a mountain and is evading law enforcement but who regularly calls into talk radio shows to warn of the coming of “The Inversion.” But memories of past lives keep nagging at him, beckoning him to explore who he truly is.
Buster remembers once being married to Marty (Kate Lyn Shell) and having a family and job that he may not have liked but which was good enough. That started to fall apart after a strange man (DJ Qualls) came in an d started spouting conspiracy theories and other nonsense that broke something inside him. So it’s up to Buster to piece together what from his fragmented memories is true and what’s not.
The first poster gives off a distinct Barton Fink vibe. Malik is seen sitting or standing behind a huge desk, his expressionless face just barely visible over the top. All the numbers on the clock on the wall behind him are upside down, letting the audience know that we may be dealing with a trippy kind of story, something that’s reinforced by the copy telling us “The inversion is coming.”
The second poster shows Malik again sitting behind a desk, but this time everything is stark white save for strange patterns that look like TV test patterns on the wall behind him. The clock is upside down and backwards and the copy above the title reminds us once more “The inversion is coming.”
No idea what’s happening in the first trailer, released at the time of the movie’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s made up of all kind off footage of Malik as Jonah in a number of disparate settings, from playing nicely dressed and engaging with his family to shaggy and bearded and adrift on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Dialogue from Jonah hints that he doesn’t feel like he was made right, so it’s setting the stage for a story that involves questions about who you are and what your purpose is.
It’s pretty effective and shows off Malik’s performance nicely. Certainly not going to appeal to a mass audience but it serves to show off the movie at the same time it was getting festival buzz.
The second, very short second trailer is just as mysterious. There’s even less dialogue here but just as many mind-bending visuals that establish the premise that Jonah is having some sort of…episode? It’s not clear what’s going on other than it seems to involve conspiracies and at least three different settings Jonah finds himself in. It ends with the same copy seen on the first poster, warning that “The inversion is coming.”
One more trailer starts off with Buster as a mountain man on the run from authorities. But then he’s a family man completely content with his wife and child and a good job. But then he’s an office worker in the 1940s. The drama amps up as he seems to be suffering from more headaches and it’s clear we’re heading toward something, teased again as “The Inversion.” More quick cuts create more anxiety and then it’s over.
Online and Social
The official website opens with the same sort of static-filled broadcasts that are viewed briefly in the trailer.
After that the site is pretty standard. At the top is a cropped version of the key art of Buster behind the desk with the odd clock behind him. Below him are the main content menu and links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Moving down the single page site, the first section is “About” which gives you a pretty good overview of the story that might be a bit spoiler-heavy but I think it’s alright. After a handful of positive pull-quotes from festival reviews of the movie there’s information on tickets and a schedule of when the movie will be rolling out to cities everywhere.
“Videos” has the main trailer as well as a video called The Inversion that has a madman ranting in front of a whiteboard about what that event will be when it finally occurs. The “Gallery” has a half-dozen stills of Malek and, aside from the “Press Kit” section where you can download a PDF of information, that’s about it.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’ve seen or can find. I would assume there will be some online advertising done in the markets the movie opens in, especially the first few, but it’s not a big enough movie to get a substantial national campaign.
Media and Publicity
As stated above, the movie did debut at the Toronto International Film Festival where it picked up some early buzz and where writer/director Sarah Adina Smith talked about what inspired the story, the partially crowdfunded budget and more. Smith kept talking about what inspired her, her relationship to “genre” movies and other topics in the wake of the festival. It was also notable in that it’s the first major film role for Malek, who’s broken out in the last couple years thanks to his role on “Mr. Robot” on TV.
While there were some interviews at the festivals there doesn’t appear to have been any sort of press push immediately leading up to release. Most of the press covered new marketing materials and generally commented on Malek’s off-kilter new movie but that’s about it.
So…The Inversion is coming then? I dig that the campaign is selling some sort of kooky conspiracy theory at the heart of the sales message for the movie. That sets up something interesting and mysterious for the audience to come and discover more about, something unusual that will especially appeal to those who like their cinema a bit challenging. You could make the case that the website in particular goes a little too deep in explaining what that is but there’s still little to no connection to the characters so I don’t think there’s a problem there.
Aside from that, the main message of the campaign is that people should come and see the new movie from that TV show everyone at work has been telling them they need to binge and catch up on. There are a lot of elements of the marketing that will turn people off; Heck, many may turn away when they see a clock that’s all screwed up. Those that stick around are promised a twisty period piece that may not offer all the answers but will give them something to chew on after it’s over.