Still dealing with the death of her fiance, Dr. Barbara Haughton (Robin Weigert) moves to an isolated home in the country and begins a new job in a nearby small town. She soon discovers the spirit of a dead Civil War soldier named Elijah (Paul David Story) trying to communicate with her. At work, her first patient is an ER victim named Jason Donovan (Anthony Carrigan) who is in a coma as the result of stab wounds. As Jason nears death, Dr. Haughton believes if a spirit can live without a body (a ghost) and a body can live without its spirit (the brain dead comatose Jason) then why can’t the two unite to become one. When Jason’s wife agrees to remove the life support keeping Jason alive, Dr. Haughton forges the death documents, steals the body and takes Jason to her home. To her surprise, Elijah is able to inhabit Jason’s body and the two begin a romantic relationship – until the realize that Jason is not entirely gone and wants his body back.
Director Steven Peros makes the most of his low budget, talented cast and well-written script to produce a romantic, thrilling film that is better than the sum of its parts. Peros’ direction is solid with an attention to detail and storytelling and the script is intelligent and convincing; however, the movie feels very much like a Lifetime movie of the week. It lacks a unique vision and voice. The acting is the film’s strongest asset with Robin Weigert turning in an emotional, conflicted performance. She also has a great supporting cast with Jay O. Sanders as her harassing boss and Wes Studi as Lt. Frank Wascoe. Despite its flaws, The Undying is an entertaining and engaging film.
The script keeps the main characters small and precise but has enough surrounding minor characters giving the film an impression it is much larger than the low budget allows. The story is sidesteps its supernatural beginnings to evolve into a conventional thriller about mistaken identity. The notion of a ghost inhabiting Jason’s body providing it with a new personality is just means to an end – albeit, a successful mechanic successfully executed. The relationship between Barbara and the ghost of Elijah plays out naturally and understandably. Due to her recent loss, her attraction to the spirit’s plight is an oddly natural result regardless of the reckless actions she takes getting to that point. Her motherly attention to his time-crossed issues and his innocent almost child-like affection for her is engaging and sweet. At its heart, The Undying is a dime store romance novel.
Robin Weigert and Anthony Carrigan make the film work with the chemistry they share – cheap and comical theatrical facial hair aside. They make the most out of their awkward romance. It is difficult not to root for them to unite. Weigert brings an effective cautious apprehension when she begins to suspect the true nature of her paramour. Her internal conflict lives and breaths on screen. Carrigan also effectively conveys the dual personalities of both the spirit inhabiting Jason Donovan’s body and the essence of the man who was Jason Donovan. It is only when he has to transition from the innocent ghostly man to the vicious raging bastard that the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the story becomes too obvious and lumbering.
The supporting cast are equally excellent; however, their familiar character actor faces lend to the Lifetime movie of the week feel. Jay O. Sanders plays Barbara’s boss who forces himself into Barbara’s personal life and ultimately uncovers the truth about Jason’s missing body. He is equally authorities and slimy. Wes Studi plays the local detective who must solve a murder where the lead suspect is a dead man, that of Jason Donovan. Studi plays the character with an amusing (sometimes too much so) mix of Columbo and Dick Tracy. Sybil Temtchine is Barbara’s only friend, Rachel Braun, but unfortunately she is not given enough to do but look pretty and act concerned.
The Undying is a supernatural romantic tale. It is shy of scares and chills and the ghostly story beats mean very little in the story. By the time, the spirit of Elijah enters the body of Jason Donovan the story boils down to a mix between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Ghost with a dash of DC’s Deadman. Regrettably the film never aspires to be more than it is and nearly drowns in its own lack of ambition. Still, the film is effective and entertaining with a touching, romantic story mostly due to the expressive acting of Robin Weigert.
2.5 out of 5
The Undying (2011)