To Live and Write in LA

Jamie Marks Is Dead

(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)

JamieMarksIsDeadPosterBeauty and creepiness are rarely found together. Writer/Director Carter Smith (The Ruins), with his cinematographer Darren Lew, create that disturbing paring in Jamie Marks is Dead. A Sundance Selection, this film is bound to become a cult classic for its deep, moody, scary, and seductive tale of adolescent confusion carried over into the world of the dead. It is based on the novel One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak.

Cameron Monaghan (Shameless) plays the 15 year-old Adam, who becomes obsessed with Jamie Marks, after a classmate, Gracie, played by Morgan Saylor (Homeland, The Sopranos), discovers his body. Both Adam and Gracie can see Jamie’s ghost, played by Noah Silver (Tyrant), which makes for a strange three-way relationship, allowing the filmmaker to explore teen angst, friendship, parents, and love.

Cameron Monaghan as Adam and Noah Silver as Jamie

Cameron Monaghan as Adam and Noah Silver as Jamie

The above description might sound like an after school special or a new Disney Channel series. Not at all. From the very first scene when Gracie discovers Jamie, we are in the world of R-Rated horror, language, and themes. But this is not a “dead teenager” flick either.

Though there are some scary scenes, and bloody knives, this film is both beautiful and sensitive. Director Carter Smith has a background in fashion photography and that artistic sense is on display throughout the film. There are not many throw-away shots. This is cinematographer Lew’s first narrative feature – a job well done. The editing and sound design by Eric Nagy and the original music by Francois-Eudes Chanfrault approached perfection. The technical work on this film is impressive.

So is the story. The themes it explores are in sync with the zeitgeist, but, you cannot pigeon-hole it. The film deals with bullying, homosexuality, a one-parent household, a coming-of-age romance, and isolation. Although those are important aspects, this is a film about transitions; about the growth of these three kids.

Adam, caught between his older brother and his mom, played in totally believable fashion by Liv Tyler (One Night at McCool’s, Lord of the Rings), fights the battle that every adolescent male does to cut the strings to childhood and his mother. It’s painful.

Morgan Saylor as Gracie

Morgan Saylor as Gracie

Gracie, in touch with her physical passion, needs to connect it to her emotional side. It’s complicated.

And then there is Jamie. I bet you didn’t know that ghosts needed to grow, too. It’s spiritual.

Actress Actress Madisen Beaty (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Master) also deserves credit for bringing life (or perhaps one should say “death”) to some of the scariest scenes in the film. She plays a teenage ghost with parent problems, whose destiny effects both Adam and Jamie.

There is a recurring motif which is central to the film in which Jamie asks Adam to give him “a word”. The gift of a word gives Jamie strength.  I have a word for the makers of this film, but it’s not a gift, it’s earned – masterful.

Jamie Marks is Dead opened in nine US cities on August 29, 2014, and is available on demand and through iTunes.

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