Saturday, December 23, 2006
Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
Karen Moncrieff (Blue Car – 2002) has given audiences her take on violence against women in her dark and compelling film The Dead Girl. Five women are deeply affected by the appearance of a young woman’s brutally beaten body in a lonely field. The story unfolds in a sequence of five complete stories revolving around the impact of the corpse on the stranger, the sister, the wife, the mother, and the dead girl.
Each of the five stories is persuasive. The ways in which the dead girl affects the women feels tragically natural. While each of the women acts in ways most of us would hope we could avoid, Moncrieff has written a script in which all the actions are believable; frightening, sure, but these women inhabit a world in which women are mutilated and dumped like so much trash. The Dead Girl does an admirable job of mixing that darkness with hope. All of the women, after all, work steadily toward finding a way to coexist in a violent world.
Movies that tell their stories in a series of what amount to independent short films need to resonate with each other if the audience is to feel connected with a single story arc. The arc in The Dead Girl is the emotional impact of a dead woman in the woods. That is a huge emotional weight, and the film does its best to keep that emotion streaming seamlessly from section to section. The problem is that when we meet new characters every twenty minutes, time is needed for the audience to connect with those people. You will find yourself longing for more in each section; more characterization, longer scenes, a bigger sense of history for each of the characters. There are certain moments and lines we might accept as not being over the top if they’d had two hours to earn them; however, ten minutes into a story arc, when a mother tells her daughter that God took the wrong child from her, it’s hard to stifle a groan.
The film is peppered with fabulous performances. Toni Collette and Giovanni Ribisi are especially compelling in their morbid, and strangely comic, roles in which they give a believable look at a burgeoning, but messed up, romance. Giovanni Ribisi has paid his dues, it is high time for audiences to see him for the stellar actor he is. Also, Brittany Murphy gives a surprisingly emotional performance that has depth and a manic charm. Murphy seems to be in every other film these days; this is the role where she deserves to be taken seriously.
The Dead Girl does need to be seen. For every moment it falls short, there is a moment made beautiful by the gorgeous cinematography, clean editing, and meticulous direction. Modern news has deflated the calamity of violence toward women into a sound bite surrounded by a rush for ratings. The Dead Girl has the necessary impact to break open this topic for serious discourse.