The Dead Girl

Powerhouse actresses gather to bury Brittany Murphy, not to praise her.

Karen Moncrieff's dark, showily acted ensemble piece begins where torture-porn flicks typically climax and move on: with a girl's mutilated body. Here, the discovery splits the film into five stories of women somehow linked by the murder—four afters and a before, each providing its own partially obscured angle on the crime. Moncrieff, who made a promising debut in 2002 with Blue Car, doesn't force some overlay of cosmic linkage on the stories—the plot strands that connect the five women are direct and plausible. Most often, images and details rhyme between the stories in mysterious ways—the wife's pet rabbit and the dead girl's stuffed bunny, for example, or the burning of news clippings by two characters for gravely different reasons. The top-notch cast includes Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Beth Hurt, Kerry Washington, Rose Byrne, and Brittany Murphy; the truncated stories force the actors to start at a high pitch and keep going. But they—and the director—work wonders at low volume.

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