Up There: Film Review

Droll pic about a funny sort of Purgatory prioritizes a convincing sense of place over belly laughs

Glasgow gets grayer in Zam Salim's vision of the afterlife.

MONTREAL — The afterlife looks a lot like Social Services in Zam Salim's Up There, an offbeat Scottish story about accepting one's lot in life, or in death. An amusing premise and appropriately deadpan sense of humor could connect with arthouse patrons, especially if the right kind of UK-attuned tastemakers get wind of it.

Tight-lipped and hollow-cheeked, Burn Gorman's Martin looks like he was born to be embalmed. We meet him just after his death, as he enters a gray shadow-version of Glasgow in which spirits walk among the living but can't do a thing to interact with them. Not only can't they move our flowerpots around, they can't even open doors: If one ducks into a broom closet and one of us closes the door, he's stuck there until someone needs a mop.

It's a tough kind of existence to accept, so the powers that be have built "restart centers" where "Carers" bring the newly dead for acclimation. There are group therapy sessions and condescending encouragement, but mostly there's waiting -- waiting for a mysterious evaluator to say it's time to ascend a light-filled stairwell to the surely-better-than-this world "up there."

Martin becomes a Carer in hopes of earning passage out of Purgatory, and after years on the job becomes convinced his only chance is to travel cross-country and retrieve a runaway newbie. His detective work is made no easier by partner Rash (Aymen Hamdouchi), a slang-spewing loudmouth who's annoying but brings welcome energy to the film. Also distracting Martin is the prospect of female companionship from Liz (Kate O'Flynn), although it's hard to say if ghosts can enjoy romances of their own: Many of them -- Rash definitely included -- spend all their free time trying to figure out where they can spy on living couples having sex.

In place of full-throated comedy, Salim's film stirs the imagination a bit with the hinted-at mechanics of this limbo world, wondering how best one might navigate its overlaps with the one we already know. Between them, the cast convincingly depicts the most likely strategies -- most of them relevant to our own plane of existence as well.


Production Company: Wilder Films

Cast: Burn Gorman, Aymen Hamdouchi, Kate O'Flynn, Chris Waitte, Farren Morgan, Ian de Caestecker, Jo Hartley

Director-Screenwriter: Zam Salim

Producer: Annalise Davis

Executive producer: Andy Paterson

Director of photography: Ole Birkeland

Production designer: Mike McLoughlin

Music: Christian Henson

Costume designer: Anna Robbins

Editor: Richard Graham

No rating, 79 minutes