The Dead Girl ***
"The Dead Girl" is surprisingly effective, and extremely eerie. It's one of those films that come out last minute at the end of the year, possibly looking for a couple of acting awards. While this may not have the acting to exceed others films like "The Queen" and "The Last King of Scotland," this is a decent little indie flick that will find its audience somehow, because it really is a good film. Taking it's cues from something like "Crash," "The Dead Girl" is all about how one dead person could end up putting a jump start into the lives of seven other people-all women. Thinking a little harder, it's not so much like "Crash," because "Crash" had a way of connecting every single character. This was pretty much takes the foundation and tells five different short stories-including the one about the dead girl herself.
"The Stranger" stars Toni Collette as a middle aged woman named Arden who is taking care of her sick mother. Her mother is a horror show, and spends her time yelling and screaming at her daughter, who takes everything she says to light. Arden has long thick hair and a face that looks as if it is never clean-it's a wonder she hasn't killed her mother yet. Everything changes when Arden is taking a walk in the woods and finds a dead girl-maggots eating her face, bloody, decomposed, the works. Arden takes a necklace off of the girl and slips it into her pocket before telling the police about the dead girl. Her mother is angered by the news reporters and cops outside, and blames her daughter for telling them about the dead girl. The news attention puts Arden on television, and she gets asked out by a man working in a supermarket. She accepts.
"The Sister" stars Rose Byrne as a girl in her twenties named Leah, whose parents are still looking for her missing sister, who was kidnapped years ago when she was still a little girl. Leah cannot get over the disappearance of her sister, and doesn't even notice the advances of a fellow student in her school. The dead girl Arden found ends up on the slab in the morgue she works in, and oddly enough she has the same markings on her body that her sister is supposed to have. Leah is certain that this is her sister, and feels that it is finally time to move on and see what else life has to offer her.
"The Wife" tells the story of Ruth, played by Mary Beth Hurt, as a tired and ailing housewife who watches her husband go off in the middle of the night for a drive, and then not returning well until the next day. She works at a storage place, and when she gives a room to two men looking for a space she finds out that the room she gave them is full with clothes, and a wall of photos with girls that are all dead.
"The Mother" has Marcia Gay Harden play Melora, the mother of the dead girl. She goes to town to find out that her daughter was working as a whore, and through a friend of her daughters finds out a secret about her daughter that she never knew.
"The Dead Girl" tells the story of the title character-and all she wants to do is find a way to take a two hour road trip to visit her daughter on her birthday. We know how this one will end.
"The Dead Girl" is a short film, just about ninety minutes in length, and even though it covers such a large ground of characters, it is done so well that in each twenty minutes little story you feel as if you were watching a full length feature. The acting is all terrific, and when a film opens with Toni Collette, then you know that your in for a treat. Mary Beth Hurt is very good here as well, and stars in one of the best scenes here, where she strips herself of all her clothes and burns them, symbolically trying to run away from the life she's been living and deciding to move on. It's quite a brave scene, and a movie moment to treasure, really. And each story ends up bringing a little bit of hope. The characters change for the better, even though their situations may be pretty much the same. Arden may find someone to love, but there is still the problems at home that she will have to contend with. By the time we get to the story about the dead girl herself we are filled with so much hope that we forget how this story will end. By this time we know who ends up killing her, and in the final shot of her talking to her future killer, as the screen blacks out, we are heartbroken. You almost forget that she is going to die. I left the theatre in a kind of silent awe.
"The Dead Girl" does linger a little bit in the middle at times-I think during the segment about the mother I checked my watch multiple times, but on the whole it is a terrific performance piece, showcasing quite a bit of talent. It is quietly powerful, and tells its story, or stories, very well. In a season where indie flicks are reigning supreme, "The Dead Girl" may not top the list, but is certainly a great fallback choice.