Buster is a mountain man on the run from authorities. He survives the cold winters by breaking into vacation homes and living off the spoils. He’s pursued by the police but also by flashbacks to his prior, family-man life, and by persistent daydreams of being adrift at sea. He calls radio shows to warn others about the impending “Inversion”.
The film, which eschews conventional story-telling, seems to have three distinct time lines, if I may call them that. 1. Buster (Rami Malek) as an overworked father and husband. He works as the night manager at a creepy hotel and the shift work is killing him. He lives with his in-laws, which might be killing him too, come to think of it. At the hotel he encounters a drifter (DJ Qualls) begging for a room for the night, and this encounter will change the course of Buster’s life forever. 2. With matted hair and a dirty beard, Buster’s mind appears to be cracked. He lives off grid, barely surviving, almost no semblance to his former self. 3. He is half-starved, lost at sea in a small rowboat, sending letters in bottles overboard. We don’t know how long this has gone on for.
How many, if any, of these time lines is real? Are they manifestations of his wormhole conspiracy theory, or the product of a mind broken with grief and guilt, or just the insomniac’s daymares? That’s for you to figure out, without much help from director Sarah Adina Smith, who is perfectly comfortable with an audience full of head-scratchers and what-the-fuckers. In fact, she’s going to throw in a whole bunch of biblical allusions just to fuck with you some more.
One thing’s for sure: Rami Malek is ready to be a leading man. His minimalist style still conveys mental instability and eccentricity across all timelines. He contributes to the film maker’s ruse by making each version of Buster equally believe and unbelievable. All three feel authentic but all three cannot be. He gives away nothing. And in the end, if you’re going to enjoy this movie at all, you’ll have to be comfortable with that, with not getting any answers. By having bold questions shoved in your face and living with just discarding them. Is any version of Buster a real person, or are they all just metaphors for disillusionment? Or am I, the viewer, the one who’s disillusioned?