The Dead Center

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Dead Center
"Whilst this may superficially seem like just another horror film about possession or a zombie, it has a lot more going on both narratively and thematically."

Psychiatrists in the movies tend to get a bad rap. Often they're positioned as the enemy, trying to control the behaviour and even the minds of protagonists who believe unlikely but true things. In the real world, of course, things rarely turn out that way, and here writer/director Billy Senese endeavours to redress the balance. In doing so, he establishes a hero who fits squarely within another, older horror tradition: the dedicated man of science who struggles to hold onto his own sanity when confronted with the limits of his world view.

That hero is Dr Forrester (Shane Carruth, on excellent form), a man who has been through troubles of his own but remains devoted to his patients. He's used to coping with odd situations so when a confused man (Jeremy Childs) comes blundering through his ward, seemingly unable to remember anything, he simply take his aside, calms him down and gently begins a conversation that might help him arrive at a diagnosis. What he doesn't know is that just a few hours ago this particular patient was pronounced dead in another part of the hospital after being admitted as a suicide victim, and that another doctor is frantically searching for him. What he can't comprehend is that his John Doe has actually been dead - more than once - and that something has come back with him from the other side.

Whilst this may superficially seem like just another horror film about possession or a zombie, it has a lot more going on both narratively and thematically, reflecting as it does on the experiences of many people with severe mental illnesses and those who care for them. This subtext makes for some heartbreaking scenes which could be tough viewing for people who have lived with such challenges. Whilst there is a clear horror element and sense of threat present it is - as so often in real life - impossible to fully separate the concern that prompts from the awareness that this is a human being in need of help. Senese's unobtrusive but effective development of character backgrounds ensures that the human dimension always remains in sight.

Though many of the sets here are quite spare and are lit in a way that is deliberately plain - the ward having been designed to be a calming place - Senese permits himself the occasional directorial flourish, with an lengthy aerial shot near the end proving particularly effective. Where visual elements of the film have to be restrained, he draws on his background in radio to make tremendous use of sound. All those odd background hums and banging sounds that echo around hospitals shape the character of the ward, and the gradual build-up of noise that viewers may not even be consciously aware of unless listening for it provides a means of connecting us with the disordered psychological states of some of the characters.

Though the slow build and genre-bending approach won't be for everyone, this is an intelligent piece of filmmaking that demonstrates an acute understanding of horrors present in the mundane world.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2019
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A hospital psychiatrist's own sanity is pushed to the edge when a frightened amnesiac patient insists that he has died and brought something terrible back from the other side.

Director: Billy Senese

Writer: Billy Senese

Starring: Shane Carruth, Poorna Jagannathan, Jeremy Childs, Bill Feehely

Year: 2018

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


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