In a wintry small town, the body of a teenager named Jamie Marks is found by the river. Adam, the star of his cross-country team, becomes fascinated with Jamie-a boy nobody really knew or interacted with, except occasionally to bully him. When Jamie’s ghost begins to appear both to Adam and Gracie, the classmate who discovered the body, Adam is caught between two worlds. He has a budding romance with Gracie, but he also feels a deep connection to Jamie, who brings him closer to the world of the undead.
Director Carter Smith flirted with mainstream recognition in 2008 when his film The Ruins was released. The movie was a very mild success. Making about double its relatively low budget upon release, it did not propel his name into the collective cultural mindset. Instead, Smith was left fairly obscure in the world of film. He wouldn’t direct another film until the 2014 release of Jamie Marks is Dead.
Jamie Marks is Dead tells the story of Adam McCormick (Cameron Monaghan), a high school track star who becomes an outcast when he begins interacting with the ghost of a recently deceased classmate named Jamie Marks (Noah Silver). While bonding with the ghost, Adam also deals with the paralysation of his mother Linda (Liv Tyler) by her best friend Lucy (Judy Greer). To top it all off, he falls in love with another outcast named Gracie Highsmith (Morgan Saylor).
In many aspects, Jamie Marks is Dead is a rather well made film. It manages to capture the angst of the main character, Adam McCormick, in a believable manner. The early portions of the film show that he has always felt himself an outsider among his peers. When he runs, he runs ahead of them. He does not remain with the rest of the high schoolers who run during track practice. He doesn’t join in while the popular kids are bullying other kids. He wants to visit the location where Jamie’s body was found not as some sort of sick attraction, but in remembrance of the life lost. Adam was never a part of the people around him. As things begin to unravel following the appearance of Jaime’s ghost, Adam’s status in life takes a turn. Between seeing and interacting with a ghost, beginning a relationship with another outcast, his mom’s injury, and the death of Jamie Marks, his angst bubbles to the surface.
With the angst of Adam McCormack in Jamie Marks is Dead, it only makes sense to have a great lead performance. An actor is needed who can effectively make the character seem like he has internal issues, and have them rise to the surface without making the performance seem ridiculous. For the most part, Cameron Monaghan does a good job in presenting his character. The only time that he seemed to border into overacting was whenever it came to the relationship he had with his mother and her friend. It is completely understandable that Adam would have a lot of trouble dealing with his mother’s situation and the woman who caused it, but the performance makes the agonizing pain of the character laughable. The way that he speaks to Lucy is the way that a four year old would talk when his or her toy is taken away by another child. It seems childish rather than pain-filled. It isn’t helped by the fact that Monaghan is given dialogue in which his character is supposed to call Lucy “The Paralyzer.” His emphasis on those two words is warranted, yet abrasive to an audience.
Speaking of the dialogue in Jamie Marks is Dead, there are some really atrocious moments in which things are spoken that seem like they would never be spoken in normal conversation. The nickname that Adam gives to Lucy is accurate for the situation; however, it doesn’t feel biting enough for how the character is feeling. It is not the only instance of bad dialogue, though. The most glaring dialogue in the movie is a moment where Adam and Gracie are about to participate in oral sex. When Adam’s pants go down, Gracie looks at him and says “You have a nice penis head.” Adam responds with “Thanks.” That’s the dialogue of that moment. I could never imagine someone saying “penis head” in that situation. Never in a million years would I think that would be the phrase used. It’s awkward and stilted. It feels out of place in a movie that does a good job of depicting the inner turmoil that teenagers go through based upon their surroundings.
This turmoil is not only shown through the main character of Adam McCormick. It is also shown through his ghostly companion, the titular Jamie Marks. The problems that Jamie experienced in life are also depicted in his afterlife. The isolation that he felt due to the bullying and lack of social life shines in the presentation. The way that Jamie idolizes Adam is realistic and helps to make the final moments of the film more tragic. The bond that they have to each other comes out of the way they can relate to each other’s issues. It is a moving relationship that anchors the movie.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jamie Marks is Dead is a well-crafted movie. Aside from the sometimes out of place dialogue and the few moments of overacting by the lead actor, I found a lot to like in the movie. The relationships were well defined and the story was well told. It was a solid follow-up by Carter Smith to his more well-known effort, The Ruins. It has given me the urge to go back and rewatch that movie, which I didn’t really like upon its release. His work on Jamie Marks is Dead has also made me want to recommend it to people. Consider this my recommendation. If you come across the movie, check it out.