verb: to psychologically manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity
Allow me to explain something, yet again: when the dictionary defines a phenomenon you know it’s persistent. You really don’t remember my explanation from the last time we argued about it? When you find out the movie, from which it’s derived showcases none other than Ingrid Bergman you know it’s going to be demonstrated in the most captivating way possible. No, really; Ms. Bergman is a good actress. I’m not being condescending; you’re too sensitive. It’s also interesting to note the movie version was adapted from a stage play. You’re getting confused, again. But at least I’m here to help you, despite these little episodes you keep having. Of course you don’t remember. It’s OK; I’ll help you through it. Trust me—it’s not like you have something I want but are smart enough to keep it concealed.
What was ahead of its time—many people dismissed the premise of a TV studio adopting a child, around which a reality show would be taped, as ridiculously exaggerated—may now seem trivial or irrelevant. The lengths to which The Entertainment Industry will go for an audience (not to mention advertising, including product placement) always surprise us for some reason. In light of the births of current celebrity babies—the mothers of whom take future brand identity into consideration when naming them—it might be wise to revisit this movie and consider the impact of a scenario that’s not likely to be hypothetical for much longer.
Counter to its title, each main character is anything but courteous. High schooler, Ethan enlists the help of his techie classmate, Sean to prank their reclusive, cranky old neighbor by staging a haunting that will be secretly filmed for a school project. Initially, Sean agrees to Ethan’s plan to watch their neighbor’s reactions to occurrences (e.g. slamming screen door), which they control remotely. To both the pranksters’ disappointment, the response is minimal. As the incidences intensify, it becomes clear that Ethan has a deep emotional investment in psychologically torturing the old man. A falling out between the two prompts Sean to demand his equipment back but he’s essentially blackmailed into continuing with the experiment since it was all purchased on his credit card. When Ethan breaks in to adjust a camera toppled by the old man’s cat, he experiences his own unexplainable occurrence.
People handle internal feelings in different ways. Children, for example, often create imaginary friends. But what happens when an adult latches on to an inanimate object, which is the only thing that can keep him from becoming a recluse? Furthermore, what happens when his eccentric hobby becomes impossible to hide? No one can agree on how to treat a social pariah; reactions vary from disgust—outrage at challenging accepted convention—to patronizing indulgence—fear of confrontation.
This young man’s transformation finally occurs when he feels the safety of a surrounding community, who will love him through an intense period of inner turmoil. When the strong desire to be right clashes with the strong desire to fit in, the most vulnerable becomes collateral damage. However, everyone benefits when they redirect their efforts towards patience and sympathy for someone, who’s trying to work through past trauma and figure out how to grow up.
Writer/ director, Sarah Adina Smith’s description of her film as a mix of “Donnie Darko” and “Bad Santa” can only be due to its main character’s delightfully curious nature throughout this murky story. Buster/ Jonah’s reprobate past is behind him as he begins a new life with his religious wife, Marty. While working the lonely night shift at a hotel, Jonah is drawn to a philosophical—and slightly paranoid—drifter, the extent whose influence is gradually revealed. The choice to rotate between three phases of Buster/ Jonah’s existence until the startling confluence of past, present and future is bold, to say the least. But the real expertise is displayed in the casting of Rami Malek as Buster. His performance was essential to the telling of a story that will stay with you long after the credits roll.