Sam is an employee at a morgue, just going about his business of preparing bodies for their final destination. Despite the mordant nature of his work, he’s cheerful and efficient and finds a way to enjoy himself despite it all.
But on one seemingly routine day, he gets the surprise of his life: he uncovers the body of his idol, esteemed actor Alfred Molina. And now he has to perform his hero’s autopsy.
Writer-director Dominic Burgess’s short dark comedy is full of expertly timed funny dialogue and action, thanks to its quicksilver script. The words and action combust together with a keen sense of rhythm, while the camerawork and overall direction creates richly hilarious contrasts, whether it’s the bubbly pop song playing in the antiseptic austerity of the morgue or the punchy, colorful cinematography portraying this milieu of frank mortality.
But the great strength of the short are its performances, including by Burgess himself, an actor who has appeared in many television shows ranging from “The Good Place” to “The Leftovers” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”. As the title character in his short, he goes through the five stages of grief in one performance, even managing to take a selfie with his sadly deceased acting hero, fashion styling included.
But through it all, he knows he has to do his idol’s final autopsy, but it’s simply too difficult at first to perform it. Those feelings are played for real, and those moments are sincere. The film’s exploration of the feelings we have towards celebrity — and the grief we feel when they die — are rooted in real life emotions.
It’s not uncommon for many people to know more about their favorite musicians, actors and sports stars than they do about their family members. But the attachments we have to them — or for any entertainer that has given us pleasure, entertainment or joy, however vicarious — are very real, for Sam and for a world that puts out outpourings of remembrance and grief on social media within hours of the news. Through Sam’s reactions, the film offers an absurdist take on this, but the longings we project onto celebrities are real.
Though covering dark and emotional territory in a light, even buoyant way, “Sam Did It” is full of twists and silliness — and of course Alfred Molina himself playing Alfred Molina. Its ending twist may be outlandish, but the last zing is also unforgettable in its irony, the final punchline in a well-executed (ahem) short comic gem.