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Do you have a penchant for smartly written thrillers? Look no further, then director Scott A. Hamilton’s feature film debut, “What Death Leaves Behind.” What makes this thriller even spookier is that it is partially based on true stories. Co-writer Chad Morton, got the idea for the film after his cousin received a kidney transplant. His cousin began having dreams about the donor. This phenomenon is called cellular memory theory. If you really want to go down an internet rabbit-hole, search “cellular memory transplant stories” and tons of anecdotal evidence will pop up. 

Basically, cellular memory states that our brain is not the only organ that stores personality traits and memories. It states that major organs may have self-contained brains. Cellular memory phenomenon was coined by doctors after some patients that received organ transplants started to exhibit personality changes thought to be similar to their donors. There are countless stories of people suddenly loving a genre of music, a food they previously despised or having nightmares of the exact details of their donor’s death. 

What Death Leaves Behind is a story about Jake Warren (Khalil McMillan), a hard-working father with a rocky marriage and on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.  Once he does receive a kidney transplant, he begins to have increasingly violent nightmares of a man (Johnny Alonso) and a woman (Erin O’Brien). Jake becomes convinced that the kidney he received his from one of these people in his nightmares. Soon is consumed about learning the truth and his life starts to slowly crumble around him. 

The film is told in a non-linear format that lends itself well to the gritty, dark tone of the film. There have been very few films that dealt with cellular memory and the concept was truly fascinating to watch. The acting all around was superb. Khalil McMillan was terrific as a man becoming increasingly obsessed and disturbed by these hallucinations. Vincent Young was fantastic as Jake’s best friend, Andrew, who tries to remain the voice of reason for Jake. The nightmare scenes between Johnny Alonso and Erin O’Brien really stood out. The intensity of the acting and way they were shot reminded me of scenes from “Under the Skin” and “Mulholland Drive.” All three completely different movies, but all three successfully capturing that unnerving sense of eeriness. 

Cast and Crew of What Death Leaves Behind

“What Death Leaves Behind” is a solid debut for director Scott A. Hamilton. You can definitely see that he has an eye for telling stories in a unique and gripping manner. I really look forward to watching his career progress. The film premiered in Los Angeles on Sept. 11th and will be making its rounds across the country. Go to this website to get info on future screenings: You can also follow the film via Instagram at @whatdeathleavesbehind

Director Scott A. Hamilton with Actress Erin O’Brien

MUSE TV & Culturally Obsessed’s Jennifer Ortega attended the premiere of “What Death Leaves Behind” and interviewed the cast & crew.

A man who, after a kidney transplant, begins to experience reoccurring nightmares that he believes are visions of his donor’s violent murder. The nightmares eventually send him on a dark path of vengeance, leading to an unbearable truth. Release date: September 11, 2019 (USA)

Director: Scott A. Hamilton Producer: Rachel K. Ofori Screenplay: Scott A. Hamilton, Rachel K. Ofori, Nico Giampietro, Chad Morton

Starring: Christopher Mann, Vincent Young, Erin O’Brien, Johnny Alonso, Alexandra Tydings, Shaira Barton, Amanda Diaz, and Khalil McMillan



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1 Comment

  • Theresa Lynn, September 16, 2019 @ 7:02 am Reply

    Nice review! I like your background information explaining Cellular Memory Theory. Very insightful review. The only thing that felt odd was not mentioning two of the leads when mentioning specific performances. I saw the film in Cleveland at the GCUFF and at the PanAfrican Film Festival. I believe Shaira Barton and Christopher Mann (the wife and the uncle of the lead) deserve a mention as well. I’ve been Keeping up with the film. It’s really nice to see it get a theatrical release. Looking forward to seeing more from this group.


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