The Dead Center welcomes you to the noise and chaos of an emergency psychiatric ward...
Screams, tears, blood, and even laughter fill our visual and auditory field as the audience experiences an average workday for Dr. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth). However, the world of psychiatric medicine is not all insanity and bodily fluids, but also contains a high level of bureaucracy which Dr. Forrester strongly fights against. His boss, Sarah Grey (Poorna Jagannathan) only wants treatment for certain patients, while Dr. Forrester wants all patients to receive help. This puts a cramp in Dr. Forrester’s methods of doctoring, so he must rely on lying and taking part in more dangerous approaches to psychological care.
Director/Writer Billy Senese (Closer to God) contrasts the bedlam found in the psych ward with the work environment of morgue worker Dr. Edward Graham (Bill Feehely) as his world remains bright, calm, and above all, controlled. Eventually these two worlds will not so much collide, but gently merge into one another when an unknown suicide victim goes missing from the morgue and appears in a hospital wing. Unbeknownst to Dr. Graham, the now ambulatory and un-deceased John Doe (Jeremy Childs) becomes Dr. Forrester’s patient.
As the audience becomes more acquainted with John Doe, Senese subjects the viewer to the auditory perspective of the newly arrived mental patient. Frequently the audio track will fall into complete silence or near complete silence to represent death or a catatonic state. While other times the senses become bombarded with any and all sounds and voices heard (or presumably heard) by John Doe. Senese also uses the background to increase the sensation of mental unease as he shows the ward constantly in shadows or muted lights. In addition, the space conscious director gives a claustrophobic vibe to the hospital as the setting continually focuses on walls and corridors as well as placing the massive frame of John Doe in these small spaces.
hThe constant voices and confining surroundings establish John Doe as a man with mental issues who is always moments away from snapping. But as he becomes more aware and emerges from his unresponsive condition, he regains some of his memories. Apparently, John Doe’s suicide attempt was not his first brush with death. Unfortunately, due to his current psych ward surroundings, his claims of recently returning from the dead go ignored.
Unknown to Dr. Forrester, outside of the hospital the morgue worker (turned investigator, apparently) continues his search for the lost suicide victim. As Dr. Graham follows the spirals (you’ll get this when you watch the movie) he learns quite a bit about John Doe’s family, tragedies, and supposed mental illness. Together, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Graham sorted out all the mysteries related to John Doe, unfortunately the two doctors remain unaware of the other’s involvement in the case. Well, that is until the end. Not to divulge too much, but when John Doe came back to life, he developed a certain ability. Think Lifeforce (1985). Or for those of you non-Tobe Hooper fans (do those exist?), think Stephen King’s The Green Mile.
The movie struggles with holding the pace once the two storylines converge and the lack of connection to the characters makes it difficult to stay engrossed through the duration of the ending scenes. However, I will give a lot of credit to Jeremy Childs because he does really well with playing a catatonic/possessed patient and he definitely keeps you guessing as to what ails him. If you want a gory slasher movie or something with a lot of jump scares, then probably go somewhere else. But if you enjoy films with a slower build, atmospheric tension, and a creepy psychological theme, then check yourself into The Dead Center.
The Dead Center is now available on VOD, and releases on Blu-ray through Arrow Video October 22nd.
By Amylou Ahava