In The Dead Girl I think Toni Collette gives the best performance. Like a lot of TV drama, such as the excellent Ghost Squad (sometimes shown on the ABC), the plot is hard to grasp, but Collette's opening performance kick-starts the movie.
The role is distinctly drab. Her mother, an abusive bitch, gives off sparks, and Collette as Arden is forced by the abuse to make decisions you feel she wouldn't otherwise make. It all starts, of course, with the dead girl Arden finds in a field.
More complexity seems to enter with Rose Byrne playing a forensics practitioner, Leah. She's got the idea the dead girl is her sister. She's also got a love interest (Derek) and there is indeed a sex scene. Collette's sex scene was far and away more compelling, because fraught with psychological subtleties Derek and Leah can't match. To compensate, the filmmakers make Leah a depressive who has had periods of lying in bed when not working.
To inject more panache into Byrne's role, her mother gives a 'fine' performance, but it's strictly routine: heavy-going verbal explosions like this give immediate satisfaction but fail to linger in the mind.
The next segment features "a housewife" (according to the synopsis on the Web site) who detests her husband and rewards his frequent absences with vitriol. You find it hard to blame him for his 'philandering'. She uncovers the real reason he wanders in a storage unit. Shades of Silence of the Lambs here, but there's little hidden and the filmmakers basically give away the secret right there.
Personally, I dislike the easy duality of crime stories, and so I feel compelled to like them for their refusal to pander to the great unwashed. Crime sells, as any bookstore owner will tell you.
Then there's the black girl who gives head for money, thrown together with the mother of the dead girl. They locate the dead girl's daughter, and there are some sensations here of crimes few would yet venture to illustrate (although it's only a matter of time, given the high profile pedophiles possess).
Last we get the dead girl, who has some sort of relationship with a guy with a bunch of tats and a big, black truck. Heavy scenes, you think. But the movie lost most of its momentum when Collette exited the viewfinder.
The film could have been a good survey of male sexuality, but Derek and Tarlow (the dead girl's pash) are routine actors. The guy who turns out to be the killer gives a good, understated performance, without the bravado of Tarlow or the new-age sensitivity of Derek. It's as if guys must be colourless or caricatures or serial killers.
As a guy, I find this regime slightly offensive. Giovanni Ribisi as Rudy the shop attendant, who gets Arden into the back seat of his station wagon, is by far the best of the guys. But it's not their fault; the filmmakers have written one good story and five average ones.