|Film review: Up There|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Wednesday, 14 November 2012 16:49|
Director: Zam Salim
When people think of the undead, they think of haunted houses or zombies. They don’t think of paperwork or group therapy. But being dead, it turns out, is less like A Nightmare on Elm Street and more like being unemployed. Wandering around the streets unnoticed by real people, there’s nothing much to do in the afterlife other than hang around libraries in between signing on.
No wonder Martin (Gorman) is so miserable. Stuck in between worlds for goodness knows how long, he’s holding down a job in the hope of impressing the guys at the centre enough to send him Up There. His work? A carer, welcoming the newly departed to lifeless, jobless limbo – a place where they dream of being able to walk through the walls, let alone open doors.
It’s a neat take on the afterlife, one that’s scarily familiar in the current economic climate, and debut director Zam Salim keeps it that way for 88 entertaining minutes. Best of all is his sense of location, a sea of grey concrete and forgotten local seafront; by the end of the film, you take it as written that this is what purgatory looks like. Croydon. It’s a shame, then, that Salim’s script never quite finds a plot to fill his runtime – Martin has to find a runner to register them before his next assessment – but what it does do is populate his netherworld with a heap of colourful characters.
There’s Rash (Hamdouchi), the fast-talking sidekick who’s made peace with getting hit by a car (as long as it was a Porsche), and Liz (O'Flynn), the Scottish love interest who has a thing for reading Anna Karenina over living peoples’ shoulders. And then there are the local pensioners, who shuffle round the twilight zone like they’ve just passed on from Royston Vasey.
The links between the living and dead are nicely explored as everyone’s backstories gently unravel, but it’s the cast that gives this a heartbeart. Aymen Hamdouchi is incredibly annoying as Rash – admittedly, he’s meant to be – but his energy stops the screen from standing still, even when he’s trapped in a cupboard and waiting for the cleaner to return. Kate O'Flynn brings an emotional complexity to what could be a thin world, while Chris Waitt repeatedly steals scenes as a camp counsellor.
But from the moment we leave our world, Up There is never anything but Burn Gorman’s show. Thin-lipped, ragged and constantly exasperated, he was born to play dead, right down to the awkward way he runs (a cross between Lee Evans and Buster Keaton) as if riga mortis is about to set in. After roles in The Hour, Torchwood and even The Dark Knight Rises, it’s great to see Gorman finally take the lead; the film drifts off down the tunnel towards the end, but Burn’s charisma and deadpan comic timing make sure Up There’s pulse never gives up. He may be a natural corpse, but he definitely won’t be unemployed for long.