The early scenes of Carter Smith's atmospheric indie horror film "Jamie Marks Is Dead" do a fine job portending something wintry, disturbing and tense. When the body of routinely bullied high school outcast Jamie Marks is found near the banks of a river in upstate New York, chums Gracie (Morgan Saylor), who discovered Jamie, and Adam (Cameron Monaghan) find something else in common besides their somber sensitivity: They now see his ghost (Noah Silver).
Adam responds to this needy haunting by essentially befriending the ghostly embodiment of the aftermath of unimaginable cruelty. The supernatural connection augurs for Adam a wobbly and eventually dangerous hold on reality.
It's a meaty premise, which Smith ("The Ruins") adapted from Christopher Barzak's novel "One for Sorrow." But as Adam and Jamie explore the bonds of a strange symbiotic relationship, the movie never feels that emotionally charged about the rich subject of adolescent death fixation. This is primarily because of a narrative thinness and pervasive, progressively irksome visual gloom more reminiscent of ghoulish artiness than character development.
"Jamie Marks Is Dead" admirably refuses to hew to conventional horror tropes and is acted with integrity by its young performers, but the film nonetheless has a nagging pulse problem.
"Jamie Marks Is Dead."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
Playing: Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times