At first, it seems like a very routine situation. A corpse is being examined with the cause of death pertaining to suicide. The body is carted off into a freezer for storage until the medical examiner can come pick up the John Doe. However, after spending what seems like minutes alone in the freezer, the body bag sits up. The John Doe is alive and has no recollection of who he is or how he got into this state. One thing is for certain though. Whatever has happened to him is a much larger mystery than anyone could have ever guessed. THE DEAD CENTER starts off as a film that resembles something straight out of a potential zombie apocalypse movie soon turns into a piece that seeks to peel back the layers on mental health, trauma, and – ultimately – the inevitability of death.
There is a slow build within the first hour or so of the film. However, this slow lead up serves to successfully create necessary tension that will stick with the viewer as we slowly begin to connect the pieces of the puzzle together. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a horror film where I found myself wound tightly with internalized tension as answers started to dawn on me. A large part of that had to do with the mythos that was built into the story that we had to discover as we watched the film play out. Another part of that was how real the scenes felt to me, especially the scenes that primarily took place in the hospital. The fact that I could feel the film crawl itself underneath my skin is honestly a testament to both the writing and directing prowess of Bill Senese.
Speaking of the hospital, it might be a character in its own right. A lot of that has to do with how Senese portrays the general chaos of the ward in his scenes. The natural lighting, the realistic hospital set up, the different types of employees that would occupy that space; for anyone who has ever had the pleasure of being in a hospital or, more specifically, visiting an adult psychiatric ward, it has its own energy. I wanted to highlight this specifically because there generally aren’t too many accurate representations of psychiatric units in hospitals in the horror film genre. And I specifically want to thank Senese for that accuracy.
The realism of the hospital also helped assist in blurring that line between what is real and what isn’t when it concerned Jeremy Childs’ John Doe. That ability to blur between the lines and introduce those grey areas to the audience helped to make the final scenes more harrowing and more impactful as the film reached its climatic moment between Dr. Forrester and John Doe. Until the audience ascends to that point where we begin to understand what is actually happening rather than dismissing moments as just potential mental illness do we truly comprehend the horror. And that is powerful.
Watching Carruth on screen bringing the character of Dr. Forrester to life was truly something to witness. Initially, we get the impression that he is someone in control of himself. When we first meet him, he appears to be a rising calm in the stormy sea that is the psychiatric ward of a hospital. However, with the introduction of John Doe, we slowly see that Forrester is actually walking on a tight edge and could potentially at any moment shatter like one of his many patients. However, that edge is what enables him to see past what is going on with the John Doe and helps him to realize the true danger that lurks beneath the once-dead man’s skin.
On the flip side, watching Jeremy Childs bring John Doe from being dead to lacking in senses to regaining some semblance of full cognition was a sight to see in itself. When we are first introduced to Childs’ character, he is dead from suicide. He then comes back to life under mysterious circumstances, but cannot hear or speak. Slowly, the audience gets to watch as John Doe builds himself back up brick by brick. However, he is plagued by something. At first, it is unsure as to whether or not John Doe is dealing with his own personal demons, especially given his near-successful suicide attempt. But slowly, thanks in part due to Childs’ performance, we are able to see there is much more going on inside John Doe than we could have ever bargained for. And, by the end of the THE DEAD CENTER, you can’t help but feel for him
THE DEAD CENTER is the type of horror film that lingers after you are done viewing. Whether because of its seemingly open-ended finale, the powerful performances delivered by the actors, the direction and screenplay, or whether due to the thematic material it chews upon, this film is hard to forget. And that in itself is what makes THE DEAD CENTER a great film for me. The fact that it sticks to you and doesn’t really let go.
THE DEAD CENTER made its world premiere on September 21, 2018, at the LA Film Festival.