A dead girl is discovered in the outskirts of Los Angeles, and the lives of those people connected to her are forever changed.
The performances are easily the best thing about The Dead Girl, with Toni Collette and Marcia Gay Harden being the standouts for me. Collette captured the repressed, angry personality of Arden in a very realistic way – seeking any means to escape from her verbally abusive mother. Marcia Gay Harden’s role as Krista’s (Brittany Murphy) mother was heartfelt and heartbreaking, portraying the absolute devastation of losing a child.
I enjoyed the way that the story was told from different perspectives in a non-linear way. It was also really cool that Karen Moncrieff chose to tell the story through the eyes of women characters. Leah’s (Rose Byrne) perspective was especially saddening and realistic, visualizing the literal hell that families go through when a loved one is missing or killed.
There is also an interesting reversal in the overall tone of each individual’s story. Every vignette features a character that has been beaten down emotionally in some way or another, but they end up finding a light in their darkness. Melora (Marcia Gay Harden) loses her estranged daughter, but gains a granddaughter. Arden leaves her mother alone, but gains her freedom. However, Krista begins her story happy. She has her daughter, and the hope for a better existence. I found it intriguing that Moncrieff chose to tell her story in this fashion.
The story of The Dead Girl is brief and, outside of the way in which it is told, doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. The characters, while somewhat interesting, aren’t really fleshed out all that well. They exist to play a specific role in the story, without motives or personalities of their own beyond that. Witnessing Krista’s story last, it’s hard to care about her. By the time the audience learns about her as a person, the film is over and forgotten.
I really, really dislike closeup shots in films. There are a lot of them to be found in The Dead Girl. I don’t understand the reasoning outside of an attempt to better capture emotion, but in the end it cheapens the scene overall. I also can’t stand slow motion, and there is a decent amount of it used here as well.
The script is sometimes really bad. A lot of the dialogue between Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi) and Arden is stilted and unrealistic. I couldn’t help but think that, even given the circumstances, people simply don’t converse in the manner depicted between those two characters.
The Dead Girl is a typical crime thriller told in an interesting fashion through the eyes of women characters, but ultimately lacks the substantial depth required to transcend beyond a short and forgettable experience.