We come, once again, to a film that is very good, and very well made, but perhaps not what people may be looking for if they're scheduling some standard horror genre fare. Although Jamie Marks Is Dead is very much, as it says, about Jamie Marks no longer being a sane pick for the dodgeball team, it's a teen drama that has more in common with the likes of River's Edge (I STILL need to see that film, but the imagery here certainly brings it to mind) and Submarine than it does with any full-blooded horrors. There are ghosts here, yes, but they're barely any more ethereal than teenagers who hide away from their peers as they deal with their problems.
The story begins with some snapshots of teen life. Sort of. It all really begins with the discovery of the corpse of Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), a young man who seems to have spent most of his high school years being an outcast and a victim of bullies. A shared fascination with the death brings Gracie (Morgan Saylor) and Adam (Cameron Monaghan) closer together, which allows them to stay distracted from their own problems. Adam, in particular, is struggling with the fact that his mother (Liv Tyler) was paralysed in an accident caused by a woman (Lucy, played by Judy Greer) that she is now friends with. Things get more intense when both Gracie and Adam start seeing, and talking to, the ghost of Jamie, which gives them hope that they can find out exactly what, or who, caused his death.
Based on a novel, "One For Sorrow", by Christopher Barzak, Jame Marks Is Dead is one of those films that is easy to see struggling to find a target demographic. The issues explored are relevant to teenagers everywhere, but the presentation is more serious, and surprisingly grounded, than teen viewers may want. Older viewers, such as myself, can still identify with the things being worked through, but writer-director Carter Smith, who previously delivered solid horror for fans with the excellent plant-based nastiness of The Ruins, seems unwilling to believe that people will be drawn in by the drama alone. He adds an occasional scare here or there, which may stem from the source material, when things may have worked better with more time spent straying away from the horror elements.
Monaghan and Saylor are both very good in their roles, playing up their sensitivity and empathy without making it all seem too much like an assumed affectation. They work well together, but also separately, and Monaghan gets some excellent scenes in which he can direct his frustration and anger at Tyler and Greer, who both do well in supporting roles. Silver is slightly hampered by the fact that he has to spend a lot of his screentime looking miserable and lonely, for obvious reasons, but he gives a good performance, and the film is at its best in the few moments that have all three of the main characters shifting the dynamic between them. Madisen Beaty is also very good, playing another spirit named Frances Wilkinson who has her own, volatile, way of reacting to living souls around her.
There's nothing really wrong with this, in terms of the performances, the technical side of things, and the visual style. It's a good story, and it's generally presented well. It's just disappointing that nobody, whether that's Barzak or Smith, or both, was unable to nail down something more fitting and consistent when it came to the overall tone.
I tentatively recommend Jamie Marks Is Dead, but I don't know who I recommend it to.
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