Gloom and doom rarely look as good as they do in “Jamie Marks
Is Dead,” which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance
earlier this year. With its eerie rendering of wintry landscapes in
rural Upstate New York, this supernatural ghost story about a deceased
high-school misfit who haunts a fellow student settles into a
near-constant shivery clamminess that goes a long way to masquerade how
little of dramatic import actually happens.
photographer turned filmmaker Carter Smith (who caused a ripple in the
indie world with 2008’s gore-filled thriller “The Ruins”) knows how to
build an unsettling, melancholy mood with shadowy corners, barren trees
and overcast skies. The soundtrack trades off between starkly minimalist
piano tinkling and an unnerving ambient throb whose volume shifts in
accordance of what is occurring onscreen. And given how even the most
hallowed halls of education today are too often beset with violence,
both mentally and physically, Smith’s portrait of alienated youth in
pain and craving acceptance is definitely in tune with the times.
this not-quite-horror movie is so indulgently languorous—some might
describe it as poetic and mournful while those who are less kind would
dismiss it as plodding and downright depressing—it is likely to test
the patience of many viewers. Those looking for cheap scares in an odd
hybrid of “Donnie Darko,” “The Sixth Sense” and the restless-undead
oeuvre of George Romero will be left unsated by this overtly sensitive
wallow in adolescent angst.
on “One For Sorrow,” a much-praised 2007 young-adult novel (which are
being adapted at an alarming rate these days), the film opens with a
teen rock collector named Gracie (Morgan Saylor) discovering the
near-naked bespectacled corpse of Jamie Marks
(Noah Silver) lying by the river near a bridge. Police suspect either a
murder or suicide. A flashback shows track star Adam (Cameron Monaghan)
in the locker room, witnessing his fellow jocks bullying Jamie in a bathroom stall. He is disturbed by what he sees, but fails to try to halt the abusive behavior.
and Gracie meet at a makeshift shrine by the bridge. She invites him
over to see her rock collection on display in her bedroom and he soon
realizes that Jamie, still in his damp
tighty-whities and visibly bruised, is hovering outside her window.
While she is repelled by the vision, guilt-ridden Adam is drawn to it.
Soon, Jamie is showing up in his closet and
acting like his clingy best friend. It doesn’t take much imagination to
realize that no good will come from having a soul mate who exists in a
limbo-like netherworld as Adam increasingly withdraws from reality.
plot turns are equally disturbing and act as warning signs. Besides
the fact that Adam’s older brother defines siblinghood at its cruelest
and most callous, a parallel tragic event occurs when their single
mother (and just when did Liv Tyler become old enough to play a
character with two teen sons?) is left paralyzed after being hit head-on
by a drunk driver.
As if Adam
doesn’t have enough to deal with, his mom is now bosom buddies with the
woman responsible for the accident (Judy Greer, in a role only slightly
better than those Sprint ads where she has a hamster husband) that has
left her in a wheelchair. The presence of Lucy, which he greets with
seething resentment, obviously is supposed to echo his relationship with
Jamie in some way, but that is as far as it goes.
is also a statement about social class. Gracie, whose
sexual aggression towards Adam is regularly subverted by an appearance
by Jamie, lives in a mansion-like abode that is
perpetually devoid of other family members. Meanwhile, Adam resides in a
humble double-wide trailer home and must sniff the milk before pouring
it on his cereal. The most ominous image found on the property is the
gutted deer carcass that dangles from a free-standing basketball hoop.
The closest that “Jamie Marks
Is Dead” comes to a fright-inducing scene involves a vengeful dead girl
who goes after Adam after he commits a vicious act against her.
Otherwise, whatever melodrama unfolds is primarily the responsibility of
Silver and Monaghan, who do a fairly good job of making their strange
connection a compelling one even if it is creepy in its intimacy. But
if you are expecting an answer to the mystery of what exactly happened
to Jamie Marks, you have come to the wrong film.