Zam Salim's Scottish BAFTA-winning dark comedy is a simple, solid idea that’s been stretched too thin
This dark comedy from debut British filmmaker Zam Salim has a promising concept but nowhere interesting to go with it. The story takes place in an imagined afterlife, another plane of existence in our own world where dead souls must pass the time, able to watch the living world but not interact with it, until they are permitted to go ‘up there’, and begin the rest of their existence. It’s a grey and dismal variation on purgatory, overseen by pencil-pushing bureaucrats and councillors attempting to put a brave face on things; a toned-down version of the afterlife admin centre in Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary.
Burn Gorman, an excellent character actor with an unforgettable lizard-like face, plays Martin, a man stuck in this in-between state and seemingly powerless to make any progress. He is given a job as a carer, introducing the freshly-deceased to their new surroundings and registering them at the office. But when his gormless co-worker Rash (Aymen Hamdouchi) loses one of the new arrivals on the eve of Martin’s progress review, Martin is forced to go on the hunt or face certain refusal to move up.
A key problem with Up There is that the rules of this afterlife are never clearly explained – who gets to move up and why? – so there is no internal justification for the ways that the story develops; crucially, we don’t get a satisfying explanation for Martin and Rash’s pursuit of the lost soul, so the bulk of the film feels like a subplot to a main story that Salim never gets round to telling. It is no surprise to learn that this is an expanded version of a short film, as it ultimately feels like a simple, solid idea that’s been stretched thin.