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Friday, July 20, 2012

THE DEAD GIRL -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review was originally posted online in 2007.)

There are few things more exciting for a movie buff than to be so blown away by a film that you're captivated by every minute of it and still excited about it long after it's over, which is exactly the effect THE DEAD GIRL (2006) had on me. It's without a doubt one of the most satisfying and exhilarating movie experiences I've had in years. I can find no fault with it--it does no wrong.

Arden (Toni Collette, hardly recognizable as the mother in THE SIXTH SENSE) is an introverted, emotionally-troubled woman caring for her invalid mother (Piper Laurie as yet another nightmarish mom), who makes life a living hell for her with her constant, bitter haranguing.

One day while walking by herself in a field near her house, Arden discovers the dead, nude body of a young woman. The battered corpse has the numbers "12:13" tattooed on her arm. Arden reports her find to the police and becomes the focus of unwanted local notoriety and curiosity, notably from a morbid supermarket bag-boy named Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi), who asks her out.

She hesitantly accepts, and while getting ready to go out is cruelly taunted and ridiculed by her mother until she finally reaches the breaking point. Arden and Rudy spend a strangely intimate night together in her station wagon parked in the woods.

Rudy is fascinated by serial killers and is generally rather creepy, yet in his clumsily sympathetic way he's the best thing that has happened to Arden in a long time. In fact, she considers leaving her mother to whatever fate awaits her and taking her chances on a new life with Rudy.

This, it turns out, is merely the first story in a series of episodes that are related in one way or another to the dead girl. We are next introduced to Leah (in a deeply-moving portrayal by Rose Byrne), whose sister has been missing for fifteen years. Her single-minded parents have never given up on finding her and Leah's homelife is eternally dominated by her sister's shadow, driving her to therapy and anti-depressants.

One day as she works as a forensic pathology student, she finds herself examining the dead girl and discovers a distinctive birthmark on her hand--one which matches the birthmark her missing sister had. With this, Leah envisions an end to her phantom sister's oppressive influence over her life and a new beginning at last. But it is not to be.

There are several more stories to be told, and each one is a fascinating and richly emotional character study that is brought to life by an incredible cast. Mary Steenburgen and Bruce Davison play Leah's obsessed parents, James Franco her nerdy boyfriend. Mary Beth Hurt (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP) gives an intense performance as a neglected housewife whose husband (Nick Searcy) abandons her for days at a time--she makes a discovery about his mysterious nocturnal outings that will throw her life into turmoil. Marcia Gay Harden is fine as Melora, the dead girl's mother, who comes to identify the body and stays to delve into the heartbreaking details of her runaway daughter's last days.

This is Karen Moncrieff's second feature as writer-director (the first was 2002's BLUE CAR), and she displays a sure hand throughout. The story is scintillating and original, and her handling of it is visually exquisite.

Not a moment is wasted--every shot counts and adds to the emotional weight of the story. My attention never wandered for a second. And there isn't a single false step along the way. This is the sort of finely-crafted filmmaking that doesn't come along every day.

And finally, there's the dead girl herself. Brittany Murphy plays Krista, who we see storming through the last day of her life like a force of nature. She's a tragic figure, on the skids and down on her luck, but she's tough as nails and never gives in. I won't give away anything else about her or what finally happens, but everything is tied up nicely and the ending is both haunting and resonant.

This is probably Brittany Murphy's finest hour, in a beautifully-rendered film filled with remarkable actors giving memorable performances.  I guess you could say I kinda liked it.

Buy it at

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