Directed by: Scott A. Hamilton
Starring: Khalil McMillan, Christopher Mann, Vincent Young, Amanda Diaz
Indie Film Review by: Jack Bottomley
With a title like What Death Leaves Behind, you might expect Scott A. Hamilton’s Drama/Thriller to be more of a horror film and in many senses it is just that. However, the horror is not so much before your eyes as behind them. The story centres on Jake (newcomer Khalil McMillan) who is in the waiting line for a kidney transplant, while he keeps his working/family life in balance. The day finally arrives but what should give him a new lease on life comes to leave him afflicted, as he is plagued by unexplained visions of an unknown woman’s fate. He links these visions to his successful transplant but can an organ really carry actual memories or are these moments even memories at all? One thing is for sure; Jake’s investigation into these visualisations may well lead him to some dark places.
You could be forgiven – what with the transplant operation core to this tale – for remembering The Pang Brothers’ 2002 horror The Eye or its inferior 2008 Jessica Alba led remake but in reality What Death Leaves Behind is far less full frontal with its shocks. In fact this twisty little drama, while not overlong, certainly takes its time unfurling the full story and while you may find yourself ahead on some plot points, there is a neat twist at the conclusion of the film, not to mention a very effectively authentic semi-unresolved ending.
The fragmented narrative structure does confuse a tad at times but ultimately is necessary in keeping the story intriguing and Hamilton’s film never feels to lose its train of thought or its sense of style. Thanks to the cinematography (also by Hamilton) and score by Tasos Eliopoulos, this film has an interesting aesthetic, at times being quite grounded in realism, at others feeling a bit noirish and in the genuinely nightmarish vision sequences (all the more incredible thanks to the black and white visuals), the film almost evokes the hypnosis sequences from Jordan Peele’s sublime Get Out.
Away from the visual power or piecing together of the story though, What Death Leaves Behind is bolstered by an excellent performance from its lead. Khalil McMillan is our everyman but through his experiences and feelings, he becomes a complex figure that mentally is challenged throughout the film. McMillan’s turn is convincingly conflicted and it helps to add more to the themes within Hamilton, Chad Morton, Nico Giampietro and Rachel Fraser Ofori’s screenplay.
The film tackles very real issues of psychological strain resulting from facing your own mortality head on, as well as the pressures of the American medical financial system and how parenthood or love can be the sole light in a very dark state of mind. The film questions your allegiances come the finish and leaves you to question what is not only right but also what is kindest, in this situation. As well as leaving you to assemble all the pieces and realize the logic behind the protagonist’s dark, deadly, journey.
What Death Leaves Behind is a bit rough around the edges but its fractured plot structure fits the concept and it leaves you constantly thinking and questioning the compelling events throughout the relatively brief 80+ minute running time.
Watch the official trailer below…