29th Oct2019

‘What Death Leaves Behind’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Khalil McMillan, Vincent Young, Shaira Barton, Christopher Mann, Erin O’Brien, Johnny Alonso, Alexandra Tydings, Kelly Dowdle, Shaira Barton, Amanda Diaz, Dennis Jeantet, Al Sotto | Written by Chad Morton, Rachel K. Ofori, Scott A. Hamilton, Nico Giampietro | Directed by Scott A. Hamilton

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Cellular memory – A parallel hypothesis to body memory positing that memories can be stored outside the brain in all cells. The idea that non-brain tissues can have memories is believed by some who have received organ transplants, though this is considered impossible.

Cellular memory is also the main premise behind What Death Leaves Behind.

For me at least, the idea of cellular memory does seem a little bit silly (I’m sure there’s an episode of The Simpsons about it) and in the wrong hands, trying to make it into a grounded and serious movie it could fall apart completely. But thankfully director Scott A. Hamilton and the rest of his crew do an excellent job at keeping this a very genuine film.

After a kidney transplant the lead character Jake Warren (Khalil McMillan) starts having reoccurring nightmares about the murder of his donor. When they will not stop, they take over his life and he becomes desperate to find the murderer.

The central performance from McMillan is fantastic. Even more surprising is that this is seemingly his second ever acting role (according to IMdB). He is so naturally charismatic and completely believable as Jake, who is quite a likeable character but makes some poor decisions. These decisions don’t necessarily make you dislike him, more make you want him to fix things. The movie works much better as a story about a guy who is losing his mind, and in part it is, but there’s some crazy coincidences and focusing too much on the murder, that makes me think this isn’t exactly what the film-makers intended.

Other members of the cast are good too – no-one is poor here but less experienced actors Vincent Young and Shaira Barton were the most impressive, alongside the more veteran actor Christopher Mann who is excellent.

When What Death Leaves Behind is good, it’s very good. There’s some truly emotional scenes that are shot really well, nicely acted and have an impressive musical score. You do care about the main characters and in Jake Warren, the lead character is someone you can easily get emotionally invested in. I wouldn’t say this movie has a happy ending but after a few twists and turns that don’t quite shock or impress the right way, the film at least has a satisfying conclusion.

I was interested to see that this has five different people credited with writing it, which maybe explains where the mixed ideas all get lumped into one film. I feel if the more grounded aspect of a guy not being able to cope with the kidney transplant and struggling with life after it, was kept, then this would have been an even better movie.

But as it is, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. There’s some great scenes, one great performance and now a new director to keep an eye out for. I’ll be checking out whatever Hamilton does next.

*** 3/5

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