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  Publicity Stills of "The Dead Girl"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Director: Karen Moncrieff
Cast: Josh Brolin, Rose Byrne, Toni Collette, Bruce Davison, James Franco, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Beth Hurt, Piper Laurie, Brittany Murphy, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Searcy, Mary Steenburgen, Kerry Washington
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: www.firstlookmedia.com/deadgirl

Opening Day: 27 September 2007


The life of a lonesome caretaker (Toni Collette) is turned upside down when she stumbles upon the body of a murdered girl. The discovery may provide closure for a forensics graduate student (Rose Byrne) whose sister went missing when she was a child. A housewife (Mary Beth Hurt) makes a disturbing connection between the body and her own husband (Nick Searcy) which leads her to take dark and decisive action. A mother (Marcia Gay Harden) desperately searches for answers about her runaway daughter’s life and finds answers in one of her troubled young friends (Kerry Washington). A volatile young woman (Brittany Murphy) goes on an odyssey to get a birthday present to her little girl. Together, these stories paint a devastating portrait of seven women whose lives are linked by a single act of violence and a desire for change..

Movie Review:

“Each story is like a different looking glass in a kaleidoscopic contraption of Moncrieff’s cinematic brilliance- it leaves you marvelling at the intricate and interweaving picture each and every one spins.”

It’s not hard to understand why The Dead Girl snagged the grand prize at the 33rd Deauville Festival of American Film. Writer and Director Karen Moncrieff spins a tale of 5 shorts involving 11 women, whose lives are interrupted by the death of a girl, played by the earnest, effervescent Brittany Murphy. Casting efficient, professional role actors and actresses and a screenplay that’s tightly-knit and never strays far away from the film’s didactic thematic focus, The Dead Girl effuses the brilliance of Moncrieff’s narrative work through and through as she speaks through the film on the social dynamics and consequence of violence and crime against women and girls in society.

The Dead Girl’s prominent on three counts: its distinct, recognisable narrative style, its dark, socially affecting thematic nature and lastly its prominent engagement of role characters tasked with bringing out thematically driven characterisation without drawing focus and attention on themselves. Moncrieff succeeds veritably on all three counts. The Dead Girl starts with the end at the beginning, much like Chris Nolan’s Memento. A tortured, lonesome caretaker (Toni Collette) discovers the body of dead girl and starts of the chain of stories that examines the different views of the single murder incident. From the start you know what to expect: a film that wants you to experience the process of character interaction and its social commentary.

It’s always hard to avoid being pretentious when dealing with flashbacks and choppy narratives of short stories that each gets introduced with a black screen and titles like “The Stranger” and “The Wife”. Yet, Moncrieff carries across a very minimal and representative screenplay that is one of the most natural and realistic yet. The pacing is superb, there’s nary a moment where one feels any irksome sense of pretension or high-handedness in presentation.

The stories are segmented for a very clear purpose- we are guided intuitively to look at the different perspectives of a single event, and the various characters that are intertwined in the murder. Each story is like a different looking glass in a kaleidoscopic contraption of Moncrieff’s cinematic brilliance- it leaves you marvelling at the intricate and interweaving picture each and every one spins. The feeling of “we are all in this” never leaves you, much like in Magnolia.

As with movies with multiple short stories, The Dead Girl boasts a large cast. The likes of Toni, Collete, Rose Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Giovanni Ribisi, James Franco, Bruce Davison and Brittany Murphy form a considerably powerful ensemble that delivers supremely. Where often you see certain shorts stand out more than the other, like Indonesia’s Oscar contribution Love For Share, here every character truly grasps and executes with artistic dexterity and technical virtuosity performances that exude the grittiness and uncompromising look at the trials of the 11 women involved.

The Dead Girl, for a fact, deals with the feminine issues that surround the characters involved. The females provide introspective and layered performances, in particular an excellent Toni Collette and an immensely commendable Rose Byrne as an emotionally wrecked sister struggling with her missing sister that she imagines is the dead girl she is forced to forensically examine. The guys, in their roles as foils, execute likeable performances that one cannot fault. Watch out for a brilliant Giovanni Ribisi as Rudy, the charismatically oddball kiosk help that strikes an interest in Toni Collette’s troubled caretaker character. James Franco, whom many will recognise as the young Green Goblin from Spiderman, charms splendidly as the man who tries to connect Rose Byrne to her emotional loss and need for support.

Director and writer Karen Moncrieff deserves a double dose of credit for ace-ing both writing and directorial responsibilities simultaneously when many have failed doing just one. Inspired by her personal experience as a juror on a murder trial of a prostitute victim, Karen’s connection with the struggle of violence and crime against women strikes a tonal connection with our conscience.

She declares sexual scenes will never be included unless they advance the story, admitting to producing some of the hardest to watch scenes that often do not cheaply titillate. The level and detailing in the gore and blood is far from extreme but raw, hard-hitting and very realistic in presentation. Though for the weak-hearted it the image of the dead girl and the violence in the film might stick a bit too strongly, this was a director that scores on the moral and ethical front – watching the film is like a teacher marking an essay that effuses lushness in description without he or she even once needing to pause at any bugbear display of verbosity.

The Dead Girl is a film that receives my deepest recommendations for any self-respecting and socially conscious moviegoers; equally so for both males and females. The didactic flavour of the film never sinks into feminist preachy-ness or self-pity- instead it speaks like a wise, battle-hardened orator that shares with you the troubles of a world so warped in the comfort of a dark, shanty room, cigarette in hand, ready to blow you away with the rawness and honesty of its story.

Movie Rating:

(It is true, that corpses do tell tales. The Dead Girl for one gives a brilliantly thought-evoking account of cinematic brilliance)

Review by Daniel Lim


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