This innovative, Capra-esque British fantasy about the business of getting to heaven has more than a touch of the Gilliams about it.
This nifty, bittersweet fantasy feature from writing-directing debutant Zam Salim is set entirely in a blue-grey purgatory where the recently deceased must attain a certain degree of knowledge and understanding before they're allowed to head on up stairs.
Not dissimilar to Hirokazu Kore-eda's 1998 masterpiece, After Life, – itself about a pre-heaven holding pen – Up There also boasts more than a touch of the Gilliams about it, specifically the quaint British humour and the fact the the whole plot revolves around the central character (Burn Gorman's besuited stooge, Martin) having to fulfil his bureaucratic duties.
Martin announces in voiceover during the opening scene that he's just been killed in a car accident, but counter to all conventional beliefs about ghosts in movies, these ones can't pass through static objects or have any effect on the living. So Martin is swiftly picked up and taken to a processing office where he fills in a questionnaire, takes on some bereavement counselling and then is then himself sent out to pick up and bring in another of the recently deceased – Farren Morgan's strangely illusive Chick.
What begins as a darkly comic noirish investigation in which Marin meets and converses with various eccentric lost souls soon develops into a moving exploration of coming to terms with death in all its grim guises. Stepping up as Martin's wingman is Aymen Hamdouchi's Rash whose splenetic wide-boy patter makes it easy to overlook his lopsided cockney accent.
While it's very much Gorman's performance that ties the whole enterprise together, it's hard not to be impressed by director Salim's shoe-string efforts to create an entire alternate reality, and with regard to his writing, there's not a single character on show who doesn't have some kind of quirk which makes their presence worthwhile. The dialogue zips along, so even when the plotting gets a little shaggy-dog-esque after the third or fourth red herring, you're still very much game to see how it all turned out. Expect to see Salim's name above a gigantic Hollywood production in the very near future, as Up There is one hell of a calling card.
We've learned to be more wary than excited of these small-scale British indies.
But it's so much more exciting when they're actually really good!
Great writing and direction from Zam Salim, and a charismatic lead turn from Burn Gorman. A fine debut.