A movie that is about a dead girl and yet at the same time not, The Dead Girl is an ensemble piece told in chapters, each of which intersect with one another yet do not connect in the way you'd expect. Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy, Marcia Gay Harden, Rose Byrne, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi and more star in this independent film that exceeds expectations and turns what could have been a simple story into one that is much more complex and meaningful.
The Dead Girl begins with the oppressed daughter (Collette) of a tyrannical farmhouse mother finding a murder victim (Murphy) in a field. The police become involved, but her mother is more concerned about all of the men trampling her property. As the daughter's temper begins to boil, she falls into the arms of a handsome young stranger (Ribisi) who seems to have a strange curiosity toward serial killings...
Skip to the story of Leah (Byrne), a depressed young woman who has suffered for nearly 15 years from the fact that her sister was kidnapped and most likely murdered. Her parents refuse to give up hope, but their determination is driving their living daughter farther and farther from a functional and healthy life. And when this young woman, who is now a coroner, comes across a murder victim, she discovers a clue which could mean everything...
The stories go one and one, exploring how different characters are affected by the death of a young woman. Some characters are involved by coincidence, and others are more intimately involved in the woman's death in one form or another. The movie explores the mother's reaction to her daughter's death and the realization of a wife that her unloving husband may be in fact a serial killer.
Despite the fact that The Dead Girl is about a variety of stories that slowly piece together a murder, no one story is a thriller within itself. Each chapter is a dramatic telling in its own right, and all are effective, if to different degrees. The movie starts of strangely with Collette's tale, but quickly progresses into other more meaningful segments that keep you intrigued for a variety of reasons. You may be looking for new clues to the murder, but then again you may just want to know what becomes of the current situation. Director Karen Moncrieff has done a terrific job of piecing together several different dramatic stories and achieving synergy. The movie as a whole is suspenseful, even though each individual segment isn't meant to be. On top of that, everything falls together in a very simple and believable way; there are no cut corners or logic gaps here.
The movie is not for everyone, however. Those looking for a traditional murder mystery or a serial killer thriller will not get it here; this movie is more about the characters who come in contact with the dead girl rather than the dead girl herself (though her story and the events leading up to her death are still pivotal).
The Dead Girl is an interesting and unique drama that veers away from the traditional murder mystery and develops something that is deeper and more intimate. The film is engaging, and while not necessarily something you'd want to watch again, it is certainly a recommended watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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