Running Time: 93 minutes
Rated: Rated MA 15+ (strong violence, strong themes, strong coarse language).
The Dead Girl is a quintet of stories about seemingly unrelated people whose lives converge around the murder of a young woman.
With each telling their version of the story, the Stranger (Toni Collette), the Sister (Rose Byrne), the Wife (Mary Beth Hurt), the Mother (Marcia Gay Harden), and the Dead Girl (Brittany Murphy), are linked not only by their connection to a brutal murder but also by the difficult hand that life has dealt them. The film scrutinizes their inner struggles to overcome or surrender to their misfortunes.
This six degrees of separation film, is a moving and assured independent film from Karen Moncrieff, one of America's emerging women directors. Viewers need to know, however, that the world of The Dead Girl is not pretty. Not only is the crime and the language violent, but each of the characters live in emotionally, physically or spiritually violent situations. If you can take it, the rewards are many.
The acting is like a master class in dramatic personae. Karen Moncreiff's scripts are clearly trying to redress the criticism that there are no decent parts for women in the cinema anymore. All the lead women are good, but stand-out performances come from the two Australians, Toni Collette and especially Rose Byrne, who is superb as the desolate sister of one of the murdered girls.
Each of the women are looking or searching for something, physically or metaphorically, and the journey is painful. But The Dead Girl is not without hope; it's just that it is not universal or fair, just like life.
At one stage much is made of Genesis 12:13 where Sarai is asked by her husband Abram to pretend that she is his sister rather than his wife so that the Egyptians will not kill him to get to her. "Say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.' Sarai does and Abram's life is spared.
That story and this film are all about the burdens some women carry as a consequence of the decisions and actions of some men. The dead girl is an everywoman scapegoat.
Hoyts Out 21 June
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.