A dour "Jamie Marks is Dead" deserves to find its audience

By Genevieve Valentine
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 27, 2014

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Guilt or fascination? Cameron Monaghan in "Jamie Marks is Dead."

This summer, Radius-TWC released Snowpiercer in a few dozen theaters and—just two weeks later–on VOD. It was considered a punishment, but Snowpiercer made $5 million in its first month. In a summer of franchise-swarmed multiplexes, VOD shouldn’t be underrated as a platform for lower-profile indies. Sundance vet Jamie Marks is Dead, an atmospheric ghost story, has a same-day limited-theatrical and VOD release, and it deserves to find its audience the new-fashioned way.

From its opening, when loner Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) is discovered near a creek bed, his body bent like driftwood, Jamie deftly establishes an aesthetic of luminous grit. Director Carter Smith uses wide shots to build its sense of Midwest Gothic—hardscrabble jock Adam (Cameron Monaghan) is closed in by the lines of his mobile home, the deer hanging from the basketball hoop, a locker room doorway and the film’s mournful winter palette of washed-out browns and blues long before he realizes the nearness of Jamie’s ghost.

The film, adapted from Christopher Barzak’s novel, wisely avoids a teen-whodunit in favor of a mood piece, with Adam struggling amid all the intense uncertainty in which teenagers are unwillingly steeped. Angry about his mother’s accident, fooling around with oddball Gracie (Morgan Saylor), Adam’s life is fractured enough that his connection with Jamie carries the inevitability of dream logic. The film’s central, leisurely question: Is Adam’s interest from guilt or fascination? Its leads make the most of this ambiguity. Monaghan’s a sympathetic, active observer, and Silver’s intensity makes Jamie piteous and uncanny by turns; between them, eye contact feels like an event. Jamie Marks is Dead has its tangents and melodramas, but at its core, it’s a quietly moody story of guilt, mourning, acceptance and the loves we lose in dreams.

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