Director: Bill Senese
Starring: Shane Carruth, Jeremy Childs, Poorna Jagannathan
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: A body arrives to the morgue covered in deep wounds over their body, the result of a vicious or clumsy suicide. When an assistant goes to check on the cadaver he finds only an empty slab. Meanwhile, the psych ward in the same hospital has gained a sudden and mysterious new patient.
What I enjoyed off the bat with The Dead Center was how the two different departments in the hospital have their own separate mysteries to solve, splitting the narrative into two. Logically, why would the staff in the morgue come to the conclusion that a body got up and walked to a vacant room, and vice versa, why would the psych ward assume this mysterious patient came from the morgue? As the viewer we hold the answer to this mystery, but the fun is watching the staff investigate for themselves, which leads to bigger questions and darker answers.
Whilst a low budget effort, Bill Senese makes the most of what he has at hand. The psych ward is drab and clinical looking, a realistic look for a busy hospital, and the cast is mostly hospital staff, overworked with limited resources, as most hospital staff tend to be. This realistic reflection creates a lived in setting that juxtaposes the more outlandish elements of the film. Each character is well developed, these are complex people with their own personal lives and issues, so we see the logic in their words and actions.
Relying on atmosphere as opposed to thrills and jumps, The Dead Center is a slow burn horror that unravels on its own terms. Exposition is divvied out gradually but still mostly left ambiguous, perhaps to a fault, as the source of the horror hinted at having a scope beyond the film’s budget. While lacking in any standout scares, the chilling nature of the narrative makes for a more frightening experience, especially in a bleak third act that ramps up the crawling pace.
The biggest standout is Jeremy Childs’ ominous and imposing presence. Caught in the centre of the film’s mystery, is he alive, dead, or something far worse. Childs’ performance is ever evolving throughout, first barely responsive, and with a heavy case of amnesia he becomes more lucid as the film develops. This mysterious man can switch from docile to bloodthirsty at any moment, which makes his moments of clarity even more unnerving as he becomes a frightened and vulnerable human being. The actor has a long list of minor roles in both TV and film but I hope more filmmakers take notice of his talent and arresting stature.
The slow nature of the film’s pacing may be a turnoff for horror enthusiasts looking for a more immediate and thrilling horror film. The Dead Center is an impressively chilling indie horror with a genuine sense of confidence. Well shot and acted, the sense of dread is palpable with believable performances and creepy imagery.
This review is a part of this month’s focus on horror films as part of Halloween season. You can find the full schedule, along with weekly subgenre and previous reviews here.
Rating: 4 / 5 Bloody Mary’s