What Death Leaves Behind
1h 27min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller | 10 March 2018 (USA)
Director: Scott A. Hamilton
Writers: Scott A. Hamilton, Chad Morton, Nico Giampietro, and Rachel K. Ofori
Starring: Khalil McMillan, Christopher Mann, Vincent Young, Shaira Barton, Erin O’Brien and Johnny Alonso
– Review: Rusty Ryan
There is certainly an overwhelming amount of entertainment available in our current digital culture. That glut makes it hard to find movies that are off the beaten path, but worth the time investment. I am going to humbly suggest you suspend the endless scrolling and do a search for What Death Leaves Behind.
Although the lack of a sizable budget is evident, the movie is still an impressive little physiological mystery with great performances, an engrossing story and some pretty confident camera techniques. Besides giving us a nifty and well-researched story arc, there is something refreshing as a viewer to become engrossed with a cast of talented actors that are not familiar faces.
The film focuses on the co-owner of an HVAC company named Jake Warren (McMillan). He undergoes a much needed kidney transplant surgery after seven years on the waiting list. The aftereffects of the procedure leads him to experience recurring nightmares and visions about the possible murder of his donor. Because of these strange occurrences, Jake finds himself on a increasingly maddening journey exploring the theory of “Cellular Memory”. A hypothesis that suggests memories of the organ donors are stored in the cells of the transplanted organ. His search to find out why he is having these dreams drastically changes his personality and has negative effects on all his close relationships.
The story is told in a non-linear fashion as we go back and fourth in time but never at the expense of becoming too complicated. Weaved within the main story are continuing references to a series of murders and disappearances that might possibly be connected to each other. We follow Jake as he slips deeper and deeper into this personal abyss. This search eventually comes full circle in an unexpected yet completely rewarding conclusion.
The performances are one of the best parts of this film. McMillan is very believable as the brooding transplant recipient who is struggles to stay stoic and controlled on the outside, while completely coming apart on the inside. It’s a performance reminiscent of the controlled burn we got from Tory Kittles in Dragged Across Concrete. Longtime workaday actor Christopher Mann play Jake’s Uncle Henry who’s performance brings a substantial heft to the entire production. Other noteworthy performances are given Sharia Barton by as Jake’s wife and Vincent Young as one of his few friends.
Director Hamilton has devised some very imaginative set pieces displayed during the “dream” sequences. They consist of muffled dialogue, jerky camera movements, and slowed-down filming techniques. These are both jarring and very dis-orienting. For many transition scenes, Hamilton deftly utilizes a stylized visual presentation that replaces dialogue and ambient noise with a haunting melancholic soundtrack.
The movie is not without it’s flaws. Most notably are a few moments when the camera slips out of focus momentarily and that does not appear to be intentional. But that is really getting into the weeds as everything is fairly tight and professionally presented. Also it’s worth noting that the writers appear to have done their homework in presenting the theory of Cell Memory.
I will always be a fan of a movie that presents an unexpected twist or new approach to what we have become accustomed to viewing. What Death Leaves Behind gives us a very compelling story, presented in an interesting way, by talented a talented cast and crew. It’s a tightly told tale with an ending that will satisfy and might stay on your mind for a while after it’s over. Next time you are streaming entertainment and scrolling through the endless lists of movies you have never heard of, do a search for this gem. It’s worth the effort!