In its best moments, Jaime Marks is Dead is an eerie and personal look at the need to be loved, especially when you’re young and the damage the unloved can reap is at its strongest. At its worst it’s film that’s trying desperately to be about something while failing to be anything substantial. If only the idea of love and companionship could have been the entirety of the film. Subtext works, but it works best when it doesn’t need to be dug for.
The film begins in a small town where the body of a teenage boy, Jamie Marks, is found by the river. Adam (Cameron Monaghan, who plays Ian on Shameless), an unassuming classmate, becomes fascinated with Jamie (Noah Silver). When Jamie’s ghost suddenly begins to appear to both Adam and Gracie (Morgan Saylor), who discovered his body, Adam becomes caught between two worlds. Despite a sweet and tentative romance with Gracie he also feels a deep and powerful connection to Jamie, the boy who, prior to his death, was unnoticed except when bullied. Gracie wants nothing more than to pull Adam back into the world of the living, while his infatuation with Jamie pulls him further into the world of the undead.
There’s a lot going on here and some of it, such as the ghosts, you’ll just have to suspend your disbelief for. The meat of the film, however, rests in the messages lying beneath the plot. Jamie was never seen when he was alive, and now that he’s dead he is being noticed more than ever. He was figuratively a ghost while living and now literally one while dead. However, now that he’s dead he finally feels more alive, getting the chance to build relationships and to feed off of Adam’s life; he’s given the words to say and he does what he pleases.
Adam, on the other hand, is beginning to fade away. He’s angry at his mother and his brother and can’t seem to settle into his own skin, so he allows Jamie to be his escape. The living world is full of problems to overcome, so instead he lurks with the dead, allowing their moments to be the ones he trusts. Due to this he becomes less intact with reality.
There are metaphors aplenty for closeted and repressed homosexuality, what with Jamie and Adam’s intimate yet non-sexual relationship. Jamie asks Adam to give him words, either by whispering into his ear or speaking them directly to his mouth, face to face. It’s a repressed companionship between the two that can never be broadcasted to the world.
There’s a lot going on here.
It’s handled delicately by director Carter Smith, who knows how to frame a beautiful shot and uses the pseudo- fantastical elements to his advantage, but doesn’t quite know how to add poignancy to his words. They’re supposed to mean something, and we can tell they’re supposed to mean something, but we hardly feel anything for these sad and lonesome characters. It’s everything but the connection.
The actors seem rough around the edges but deliver when vulnerability is called upon. None of them are polished and maybe that’s a good thing considering the ages of the characters, but it will be interesting to see what a couple of years do for their collective skill set.
The movie is at its best in its quieter moments, when the unsettling mood sets in and we get glimpses of seemingly endless snowy landscapes and catch the hue of winter sun bouncing off our characters. It’s an atmospheric piece, but the script and all of its meaning simply distracts from the most compelling bits of the film.
While certainly not a misfire, Jamie Marks is Dead could have used some trimming around the edges. Otherwise, it’s a nice showcase for Smith as an experimental storyteller.
Jamie Marks is Dead is out in limited release.