The Dead Center
Horror films can come in unusual guises, and this one certainly does. A low-budget, little-heard-of film about a dead man waking up in a psychiatric ward, the film follows the troubles of the doctor assigned to him as he attempts to discover the man’s identity and problems, leading to a darkness no one expected. The Dead Center is a surprise.
The protagonist—the doctor on the ward—is played by filmmaker Shane Carruth, who rarely acts outside of his own films. He is a great casting choice and brings a sense of realism to this film, grounding what could be a silly premise. His performance is excellent and note-perfect, which goes a long way to gloss over the occasional moment of ham acting from some of the other cast. His patient—the aforementioned dead man—is played by Jeremy Childs, who is confident in his role, though lacking the subtlety of Carruth’s naturalism. The contrast between them, however, is excellent, and makes this work.
The film begins with a hovering shot over an ambulance as it drives to a hospital. The shot goes on and on, much like the opening drive in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, however it is perfectly overhead throughout. It sets an ominous tone that continues throughout the film.
The Dead Center is violent and gruesome, but those moments are few and far between. Billy Senese directs with a steady hand from his own script, presenting the film with a certain aesthetic which fits the tone perfectly. I love how this film looks.
The supporting cast includes Poorna Jagannathan as Carruth’s superior, Bill Feehely as a medical examiner investigating the crime scene where the dead man was initially found, and Andy McPhee and Jackie Welch as the dead man’s parents. All work hard and the film benefits from their involvement. Of particular note is Feehely, who performs with an understated quietness which is in perfect contrast to the mania of the psychiatric ward.
The Dead Center is dark and brooding, but hypnotic in its delivery. It is considerably more intelligent than its synopsis suggests. Various plot threads are introduced, presenting a simple yet elegant mystery. It is in the converging of these threads that the tension escalates to boiling point. I really liked this film and it made a solid impression upon me. If you get the chance, give it a watch.