“Jamie Marks is Dead”, based on the Christopher Barzak’s novel “One For Sorrow”, dwells on a parallel universe of the dead, who cannot accept their own death and thus look for help among the alive. Artfully created drama billows out with dark, gloomy cinematography and some exceptional acting by Cameron Monaghan, but ends up being quite murky and opaque, as none of the subplots is fully explained – “Jamie Marks is Dead” is a game of ambiguity and guesses. Yet, it is still a very entertaining game.
A teenage girl Grace (Morgan Saylor) finds a body near the local river, later on identified as Jamie Marks. The case of rather unpopular and badly treated boy is later investigated as an alleged homicide and it influences the life of Gracie and a school-star, Adam (Cameron Monaghan). Apart from the romance, which evolves between the two teenagers, both are able to see the dead boy, Jamie (Noah Silver). Hence Adam, haunted by some conscience pangs, plumbs into the gruesome world of the dead, having Jamie as his guide.
There is no such thing as a coherently stated fact in Carter Smith’s film – ambiguous lines are fired one after another, intricately weaving the web of mystery and blurring the distinction between what is inside Adam’s head and what still belongs to the reality. Jamie, who sometimes cripples out from a wardrobe, materializes in front of a mirror or just spooks Adam by his silent whispers – all of that is a piece by piece designed plan to gain Adam’s attention. Smith avoids using horror cliches, which is a huge advantage of “Jamie Marks is Dead” – the ghastly “other side” is not a long shot from reality, which makes it even more confusing and unclear to decide on which side are we. There is also the case of volcanic-like reactions of Gracie and the romance, which contrasts with the silent relationship between Jamie and Adam. This crash of those two separate connections is the point of director’s interest.
Carter Smith directs with passion, but “Jamie Marks is Dead” is also marked by an unspeakable chaos. None of the bonds, that are pictured are defined, some of the characters are uselessly existing in this picture, thus raising too many questions, which are left unanswered. Nevertheless, the compositions of the cinematography are beautifully explored within the horror-inspired, dark atmosphere. The official score by Francois-Eudes Chanfrault fits into this “unease” quite well, mainly focusing around electronic, musical restlessness, which pictures the mental state of Adam’s perfectly. The acting performance by Monaghan, who lately could be also seen as the Joker-in-the-future character in tv series “Gotham”, is definitely a worthwhile role. His progressive dedication to the Jamie’s fate and feelings is depicted firmly and he really conveys the message of the film – all in all, Smith tells the story of how people deal with the loss of others, not necessarily close ones. And whilst his story is murky, the message behind “Jamie Marks is Dead” is clear and powerful.
Carter Smith’s “Jamie Marks is Dead” is an entertaining drama, laced with horror and thriller being definitely a piece I would recommend. Although the confusion in my head was immense after seeing it, these two interfusing worlds became a solid fundamental to touch the topic of death, on many different levels. Smith’s film is intelligent in this discussion and even though being a bit chaotic, still deserves some recognition. Plus, it must be stated – there is some new talent coming to the cinema, ladies and gentleman – I feel we will hear about Cameron Monaghan in the not-too-far future.