"“The magical aspects to Up There are contained within a realistic, morbid environment, and it works well…""
Zam Salim's debut feature film Up There tells the story of a restless dead man, biding his time in limbo while waiting to see what the afterlife holds for him. There are similarities to David Koepp's Ghost Town in that regard, except this has the misfortune of being without a Ricky Gervais. On the other hand, this also has the bonus of not having a Ricky Gervais.
Burn Gorman plays Martin, a man recently killed in a car accident, leaving behind a grieving wife. As he enters into the afterlife he has to sign in at the local centre, whereby he must attend a string of appointments and help welcome in the newly-deceased, before earning a place ‘Up There'. In a bid to fast-track his move to a better place, he must find and return a stowaway dead man who has run off to Newport.
Martin then begins a road-trip, and despite his best efforts, he is joined by the irritating and overly excitable Rash (Aymen Hamdouchi). In a world where the dead can only communicate amongst themselves - and struggle with the inability to opens doors – the pair begin their search for a man they believe will earn them a better life and future, although they have to learn a thing or two about themselves first.
The concept for Up There is great, the idea that the afterlife is effectively just a job centre, and the dead are the unemployed, with paid work and a route out being heaven. In other words, signing on is purgatory. It brings a bleak, naturalistic side to a film that is otherwise covering a completely fantastical, surreal story. There is an ingenious conflict in that respect, as the magical aspects to Up There are contained within a realistic, morbid environment, and it works well.
Talking of working well, Gorman turns in an impressive performance as Martin, really encapsulating the disenchantment of this lost soul. He portrays the character brilliantly from a physical perspective also, with a humorously devised walk, and his intonation is memorable. He is something of a moronic Lee Evans. Hamdouchi is also good, but the character of Rash is rather infuriating. I appreciate that he is supposed to annoy Martin, but I doubt he is supposed to annoy the audience quite so much too. Rather unfortunately, he lives up to his namesake a little too closely.
The key issue with Up There, however, is the detached take on Martin's life. He is somewhat po-faced and deadpan, which although suiting the characteristics of the part, disallows us to fully get into his head and empathise or emotionally engage ourselves with the role. We are following his coming to terms with his own death, but the film lacks emotional punch. Of course it's a more light-hearted and comedic tale, but Salim seems to have missed the opportunity to bring poignancy to proceedings, as the later scenes have little conviction given what comes before.
Nonetheless, Up There is a more than promising debut feature for the filmmaker, telling a unique story, and a film that on the whole is well-made and competently performed. However, given it's a first-time filmmaker and a cast made up of mostly unheard of names, it's a shame this film will never truly get the credit, or audience it merits, as this could well be a movie that has the misfortune of slipping under the radar somewhat, and there is certainly no doubt that it deserves more.