Jamie Marks Is Dead: Sundance Review

Jamie Marks Is Dead Sundance Film Still - H 2014

Jamie Marks Is Dead Sundance Film Still - H 2014

A sincere, psychologically savvy take on YA supernatural fare.

A dead boy reappears to two classmates in Carter Smith's quiet drama.

PARK CITY, Utah -- A ghost story for the bullying awareness age, Carter Smith's Jamie Marks Is Dead offers a teen protagonist who, in death as in life, can only really be seen by a few of his schoolmates. Based on Christopher Barzak's young-adult novel One for Sorrow, the film brings high school angst and the supernatural together in a serious, unglamorous way likely to disappoint fans of the Twilight franchise; more patient viewers may find much to admire.

Cameron Monaghan plays Adam, an athletic redhead who is introverted compared to his loud, nerd-taunting fellow jocks. When one of those nerds, a classmate he barely knew named Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) is found dead and nearly naked beside a river, Adam feels an inexplicable kinship with the boy. While visiting the site of Jamie's death, he meets Gracie (Morgan Saylor), the loner who found the body. Surprisingly forward, Gracie invites Adam to come over some time and check out her rock collection.

Strange things happen after the pair's first kiss under the sea-blue lights of Gracie's bedroom. Adam soon sees what Gracie already knows: They're being watched over by Jamie's shivering, still unclothed ghost. Though Gracie wants nothing to do with him, Adam seeks the ghost out and is soon receiving regular visits. Jamie materializes in Adam's closet (an easy clue to subtext that is clear without ever being made explicit) and asks the living boy to help him. Just what Adam needs to do is not clear.

As time passes, it seems that Adam might help Jamie by letting the spirit lend him moral support. With a brother who openly insults him and a single mom (Liv Tyler) who was recently incapacitated, Adam needs a new friend. Eventually, the pair run away from home for a while, encountering some of the more mysterious fringes of Jamie's spirit world.

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2014

Darren Lew's photography, all sickly greens and blues, suggests the nearness between Adam's living world and whatever limbo Jamie inhabits. But recurring bedroom scenes with Gracie, who always makes the first move but finds Adam a willing participant, demonstrate that he isn't nearly ready to abandon the corporeal plane. The characters form a triangle even if Jamie never plainly declares the nature of his feelings for Adam, but the resultant jealousies play out calmly. (The same can't be said for an encounter with one of Jamie's agonized neighbors in the netherworld, the only instance in which the film wants to scare us.) Being haunted by a ghost here is less like a horror movie than like many of the other secrets teenagers share -- working out matters of life and death that no one around them has a clue about.

Production Company: Verisimilitude

Cast: Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Madisen Beaty, Judy Greer, Liv Tyler

Director-Screenwriter: Carter Smith

Based on the novel "One for Sorrow" by Christopher Barzak

Producers: Hunter Gray, Alex Orlovsky, Omri Bezalel, Jacob Jaffke, Carter Smith

Executive producers: Hezi Bezalel, Tyler Brodie, Marcelo Gandola, Burton Gray, Michael W. Gray, John Logan, Galt Niederhoffer, Rachel Schnipper, Stephen Silver, Nancy Silver

Director of photography: Darren Lew

Production designer: Amy Williams

Music: Francois-Eudes Chanfrault

Costume designer: Rachel Dainer-Best

Editor: Eric Nagy

Sales: Rena Ronson, UTA

No rating, 101 minutes