The Dead Girl

It definitely couldn’t hurt to put the paddles to her for a couple of zaps, but this “Girl” is anything but “Dead”. In fact, a bit more juice; some lessons in balance; and some work on the rear end; and she could be more kickin’ than a newly born giraffe.


Toni Collette, Rose Byrne, Mary Beth Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Brittany Murphy, Kerry Washington, Giovanni Ribisi, James Franco, Piper Laurie

It definitely couldn’t hurt to put the paddles to her for a couple of zaps, but this “Girl” is anything but “Dead”. In fact, a bit more juice; some lessons in balance; and some work on the rear end; and she could be more kickin’ than a newly born giraffe.

Another of those films that’s commendably artistic, but both too sluggish and too doubtful to appeal to a wide audience, ”The Dead Girl” plays out the stories of a bunch of different characters who – despite the fact that their stories are separated by title cards – are all linked to the murder of a young girl.

In the production notes for the film, writer-director Karen Moncrieff explains that her interest in the film stems from the time she was on the jury for a murder trial.

“After the month-long trial, small details stayed with me”, she says. “An inventory of what was left of the victim’s life when the police confiscated her belongings: a ratty duffel bag, a hairbrush, lingerie, a hand puppet. A hand-written card to one of her daughters, who was too young to read, telling her how much she loved and missed her. She left her beeper number. The tremendous waste of her life haunted me.”

Moncrieff applied that feeling to the film.

The film opens with the tale of a lonesome caretaker (Toni Collette), whose life is turned upside down when she discovers the body of the film’s “Dead Girl”. In the next part of the film, we’re introduced to a forensics grad student (Rose Byrne) whose sister went missing when she was a child, and is now of the assumption that the body may belong to her sibling. Next, a housewife (Mary Beth Hurt) begins to grow suspicious of her husband (Nick Searcy) – and has to make one hell of a decision. And later, a capricious young woman (Brittany Murphy) sets off on a trip to get a birthday present for her little girl. By films end, all the characters interweave. Of course.

We’ve seen this done before – plenty of times actually; most recently a film called “11:14”, released straight to video in many territories, tackled a similar story and played out in a analogous fashion – and done better.

The fusty story – though it is compelling at times, don’t get me wrong – does a real injustice to the performances, because they’re actually as tasty as butter. If Karen Moncrieff’s script had been as gritty and enjoyable as the performances of the films large and talented ensemble cast – particularly the legendary Piper Laurie, up-and-coming Aussie actress Rose Byrne, and Marcia Gay Harden – it would’ve significantly helped the film. In its current form, it’s intriguing enough, but each character arc (and consequently storyline) is such hit and miss – the last part of the film is terribly dissatisfying – that it just about undoes everyone else’s good work.

You know that disappointing feeling you get when your favourite football team kicks what you think will be a goal, and ends up missing and merely gets a point, instead? Yep, same feeling with this. It was so close to scoring… but just couldn’t.

DVD extras include a commentary track that I could’ve taken or leaven, as well as some not-terribly-insightful interviews with the cast and crew.

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris