"The Dead Girl," the new film from acclaimed writer/director Karen Moncrieff ("Blue Car"), is a quintet of stories about seemingly unrelated people whose lives converge around the murder of a young woman.
"The Stranger" is about the woman (Toni Collette) who finds the body. The publicity generated by the discovery creates an opening for her to break away from her abusive mother's (Piper Laurie) control and form an unlikely bond with the mysterious Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi).
"The Sister," a forensics graduate student (Rose Byrne), is torn between her mother's (Mary Steenburgen) pressure to hold onto hope for her abducted sister's return and her longing to move forward with her own life. When she examines the dead girl, she is convinced that she has found the body of her missing sister, finally releasing her from her burden.
"The Wife" (Mary Beth Hurt) is trapped in an intense hate/love relationship with her husband (Nick Searcy). A terrible discovery about his connection to the dead girl's murder forces her to confront what she though she knew about him—and herself.
"The Mother" (Marcia Gay Harden) searches for answers about her runaway daughter's life and is confronted with a series of revelations that change the course of her own life. She gets help in her quest from another troubled young woman—the prostitute (Kerry Washington) who lived with her daughter.
"The Dead Girl" (Brittany Murphy) is a fireball: hyper, volatile, self-destructive and subject to hair-trigger bursts of uncontrollable rage. She also has an innocent and child-like side. She dreams about improving her life and becoming a good mother to her young daughter.
The characters in "The Dead Girl" are linked not only by their connection to a brutal murder but also by the difficult hand that life has dealt them. The film scrutinizes their inner struggles to overcome or surrender to their misfortunes. As in "Blue Car," Moncrieff creates multidimensional portraits of women as they seesaw emotionally through a tangle of conflicting desires and fears.
Riveting and ultimately heartbreaking, "The Dead Girl" confirms the promise of "Blue Car," and heralds the arrival of Karen Moncrieff as a major American independent filmmaker.