Movie Review - Jamie Marks Is Dead

Cameron Monaghan (left) and Noah Silver
play unlikely friends in "Jamie Marks Is Dead"
Carter Smith directed a really, exciting and terrifying, horror film The Ruins (2008), an adaptation of Scott Smith's book involving young people under attack by supernatural forces, connected to nature. It followed an equally, unnerving short film called Bugcrush (2006), an adaptation of Scott Treleaven's story, a homoerotic ode about a young man who is lured into a trap and has nature similarly pitted against him. Based on "One For Sorrow," the 2007 novel by Christopher Barzak, this film seems to embrace those same elements from Smith's previous works.

A cursory glance at Barzak's book and the premise of this movie would draw comparisons to Lovely Bones (2009) or If I Stay (2014). It's yet again a story about a teenager who is killed but who comes back as a ghost to reconcile with issues he or she had on Earth. The difference is that the teenage ghost in question here is presumably gay. He at no point actually comes out and says he's homosexual, but that's the obvious implication.

Yet, this movie isn't told from the ghost's perspective. It's told from the point-of-view of the ghost's love interest, a handsome redhead named Adam McCormick, played by Cameron Monaghan from the Showtime series Shameless. Adam lives with his mom, played by Liv Tyler (The Leftovers and The Lord of the Rings) and his Trans Am-driving, older brother Aaron, played by Ryan Munzert. No sign of a father, Adam and his family live in an impoverished part of Youngstown, Ohio. Adam has to use landlines and phone booths, not necessarily because this movie takes place a decade ago, but because Adam's family can't afford to get him a cell phone. Yet, we never see anyone else using cell phones either.

Adam sees Jamie Marks, played by Noah Silver (Tyrant) who looks like a taller, skinnier Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, as Jamie is getting bullied by obvious homophobes in the bathroom, but Adam does nothing about it. After Jamie is found dead, his teacher points out, in a great scene by Carter Smith, how no one ever truly cared, and essentially they all should be ashamed.

Ironically, it takes Jamie's death to get Adam and Jamie to become friends when they probably wouldn't have otherwise. There is of course a lesson to be learned there. What Smith's script or his direction fail is to develop the relationship between Adam and Jaime beyond that lesson. Smith reduces their bonding to a montage. The two never have any real conversations where they get to know one another. The movie ends and I had no clue who Jamie Marks was, what his favorite color was, his favorite book, nothing! Again, who knows if he were even gay?

Jamie is a spirit, but he isn't like Patrick Swayze in Ghost (1990). Jamie can make himself visible to people. He can touch them and other physical things with no trouble. He can teleport from here to there. He can even use closets like the men in hats use doors in The Adjustment Bureau (2011) or the children use the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia (2005).

Jamie feeds off words that Adam whispers in his mouth or ear, but there's no clue if as a ghost Jamie needs this. There's no clue what the ghosts need at all. The rules of how ghosts operate in this world is never explained.

Morgan Saylor (Homeland) co-stars as Gracie, a girl that Adam likes. She's the one who actually finds Jamie's dead body, while collecting rocks for her rock collection. She seems to know a lot, and she could have been the one to explain things. She's supposed to fit like Jamie and Adam in that she's a bit of a loner and an outcast, not popular. Yet, she becomes highly sexual in a way that didn't fit.

Smith's film is darker and edgier. For example, instead of walking into the light, Jamie has to walk into a dark tunnel. Yet, in terms of teen sex, movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) or The Spectacular Now (2013) handle awkward moments that fumble toward ecstasy better. There's even fun to them.

There's no fun here to Smith's film, fun including genuine terror, which this movie doesn't really possess. One moment of supposed terror doesn't frighten because the rules of ghosts aren't established, so the fear is turned down a little. Smith is able to maintain a creepy, sorrowful tone visually all throughout. Yet, it isn't anywhere near as scary as The Ruins.

A better film about a young gay man who becomes a ghost and comes back to haunt a man and his girl is Undertow (2009), the film from Peru, also known as Contracorriente.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but has nudity and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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