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Posted October 1, 2010
The Search for Ways to Fill Holes in the Soul
Karen Moncrief has written and directed this terrifying, searching, agonizing, and exceptionally fine story of the responses of five different people to the discovery of a dead girl. By dividing her story into chapters named after The Stranger, The Daughter, The Mother, The Wife, The Sister, and The Dead Girl she offers us fully realized characters, each of whom is affected by the opening discovery of a mutilated young dead girl's body. The technique of non-linear film is not new, but Moncrief raises it to a new, powerful level, a fact that makes this film one of the more sophisticated and successful of the past few years. Arden (Toni Collette) is a homely frail girl who accidentally discovers the dead girl, taking a necklace from the corpse before reporting the discovery to the police. She is a caretaker for an invalid, foul-mouthed cruel mother (Piper Laurie) who berates Arden for being so ugly and for involving them in a murder case. Arden flees, meets The Stranger Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi), a tattooed, scary appearing guy who is attracted to Arden because she appears so innocent. He courts her with tales of serial killer manners and yet eventually gains Arden's fractured self-perception trust with physical contact. The next chapter introduces Leah (Rose Byrne) who works with Derek (James Franco) in the mortuary where the dead girl's body has been deposited for autopsy. Leah discovers markings on the dead girl that convince her this is the sister who has been missing for 15 years, a fact that her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Bruce Davison) refuse to accept. Leah's tenuous hold on reality is altered by Derek's consolation and physical attention. The Wife episode offers a view of Mary (Mary Beth Hurt) and Carl (Nick Searcy), a married couple with mutual distrust: Mary knows Carl has flings with prostitutes while Carl feels Mary is too controlling. Mary discovers a chest of torn bloody underwear in one of their business Storage Containers, connects the items with Carl in a suspicion that Carl may be related to the death of the dead girl, and burns them. In The Mother we finally meet the true mother Melora (Marcia Gay Harden) of the dead girl Kritsta (Britanny Murphy) as she traces the clues from the body to a seedy motel where she meets Rosetta (Kerry Washington), Krista's roommate and lover, only to discover that the dead Krista ran away from home to become a prostitute and drug addict in response to a childhood abuse problem with her father. Melora is informed that Krista has an illegitimate three-year-old daughter Ashley whom Krista loved and Melora seeks to care for the only remains of the dead girl - her granddaughter and her lover. This film beams with brilliant performances: Collette, Harden, Byrne, Laurie, Hurt, Searcy, Washington, Steenburgen, Franco and Ribisi are poignant in their depiction of damaged people whose lives are altered by the Dead Girl. This is ensemble acting of the finest category. The production values are strong and the director's control of what could have been a meandering saga is firm and keeps the story from becoming sensationalized. This is yet another brilliant little film that deserves a very wide audience. Grady Harp
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