Director: Billy Sense
Screenplay: Billy Sense
Starring: Shane Carruth, Poorna Jagannathan, Bill Feehely, Jeremy Childs
Duration: 93 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
In the vast world of horror films, it is difficult to find something new and innovative, and in many ways The Dead Centre, 2018, demonstrates the usual horror scenarios and conventions. However, for a relatively low budget, slow-burner, I did find this film quite compelling.
Written and Directed by Billy Sense, this film has all the landmark horror traits: set in a psychiatric ward of a hospital, thin line between mental illness and possible possession, supernatural element of walking dead. Yet it doesn’t always feel like a horror film as there is something compellingly humanitarian about the film.
In the opening scene we are introduced to an unknown suicide victim (Jeremy Childs), covered in cuts and lesions, left quietly for dead in the morgue of the hospital. Seconds after the medical examiner, Edward Graham (Bill Feehely) leaves the room, the supposedly dead John Doe wakes up and runs, naked, to another part of the hospital where he finds solace from the cold under a blanket in a spare bed.
Switch to morning and it is here two separate stories start to unfold as the two main protagonists set out to discover the truth behind the mysterious un-named man. In true detective style, medical examiner Edward follows clues from the crime scene that eventually lead him to find the victims family, and an interesting history of the victim’s life. Whilst on the other side of the hospital, pained, psychiatrist Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth, best known for his directorial work on Primer, 2004) tries to establish the trauma behind the unknown man appearing in the overstretched psychiatric ward.
During the remainder of the film, the narrative progresses and so does our understanding (if somewhat limited) of where this man has come from and what possesses his mind, leading him to kill two victims in the hospital. Eventually, everything comes to a violent climax as the unstoppable force takes over, and an entire neighbourhood is consumed by death.
As I said before, the story line is not particularly original. On paper and to some extend during particular scenes, it shows a close resemblance to the plot of Exorcist III, 1990, but this film is different. It feels more natural and real, if that is even possible when dealing with a supernatural force. There is no sensationalised evil demon spouting obscenities, just a silent killer, spreading death, quietly and without prejudice.
One of the things I really like about the film is the way it is executed in two stories, running concurrently. In doing so, it is only the audience that is privileged to know the full truth about the central character Michael Clarke. It gives a rounded view of a man struck by something beyond his control and how this affects those around him. It also allows us time to build an emotional relationship with both Clarke and the psychiatrist Forester, as we delve into his personal trauma and troubled past, without the details of his patient’s investigation interfering.
The most commendable praise must however go to the acting of the cast. It is this that often saves this slow-paced thriller. Carruth plays his part of psychiatrist Forrester brilliantly, we feel his impossible desire to help his patients, along with the pain and anguish he feels from events in his own life. The deadness of Childs possessed silence, against the manic frustrations of a man tortured by the sickness within him, feels real and as a result I felt sadness at his situation. However, it is not just these two’s significant performances that are worthy of praise. Each actor, right down to the extras who may only have one line, deserves praise for their realistic and natural performance throughout this film.
Despite working on a low budget, cinematographer Andy Duensing has used lighting and different angled shots to best advantage, creating an atmosphere throughout the film which is bleak and with a natural sense of hopelessness and despair. Limited blood-soaked scenes and gore also add to the realism of the film. All this is then accompanied by background hums and bangs, alongside a tense score by composer Jordan Lehning which add to the mood.
Overall, I enjoyed this film. It is not your usual possession flick. I would recommend it to those of you who don’t mind a slower paced film that seems to deal with the natural world of mental illness as much as it does the world of the supernatural.
The Dead Centre is released with a whole host of extras that are also worth a watch if you have an interest in the making of films. It includes a documentary, A Walk through the Dead Center, a making of the film which contains some interesting interviews with writer-director Billy sense and producer-actor Shane Carruth, as well as other interviews and a look at some of the locations. Other extras include a look at the creation of the make-up effects in the climax of the movie and other onset interviews with the cast.
Other extras worth a watch are the two short films, The Suicide Tapes, 2010, and Intruder, 2011, both directed by Billy Sense and starring Jeremy Childs. Both have a similar feel of hopelessness and despair as The Dead Centre and deal with trauma and mental illness and its effects. The former film later inspired The Dead Centre.
There is also included a set of radio plays, written, produced and directed by Billy Sense, nine deleted scenes and an alternative ending. Although the deleted scenes don’t add to the film, I did prefer the alternative ending, feeling it made more sense.
The Dead Center is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video and includes the following extras:
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-rayTM presentation
• 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and lossless stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Commentary with writer-director Billy Senese, producer-actor Shane Carruth and co-star Jeremy Childs
• Commentary with writer-director Billy Senese, producers Denis Deck and Jonathan Rogers, and cinematographer Andy Duensing
• A Walk Through The Dead Center, an in-depth making-of documentary featuring new interviews with writer-director Billy Senese, producer-actor Shane Carruth, cinematographer Andy Duensing, and many others revisiting the locations and discussing the production
• Nine deleted scenes, including an alternate ending
• On-set interviews with actors Shane Carruth and Poorna Jagannathan
• Head-Casting with Jeremy Childs, a brief look at the creation of the make-up effects seen in the climax of the film
• Intruder, a short film from 2011 directed by Billy Senese and starring Jeremy Childs
• The Suicide Tapes, the original short film from 2010 directed by Senese and starring Childs that later inspired The Dead Center
• Midnight Radio Theater, six chilling radio plays ( Insomnia , The Long Weekend , Disposable Life , The Suicide Tapes , The Woman In The Basement , Blood Oath , Flu ) written, produced and directed by Billy Senese
• Theatrical trailer and teasers
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork