Originality and horror films rarely go together; writer/director Billy Senese clearly has other ideas, and his indie thriller The Dead Centre transcends genre limitations to deliver a startling, arresting take on the idea of the dead coming back to life. If your idea of Halloween movies is masked killers and old-school clichés, don’t apply here; The Dead Center is disturbing, troubling fare that might fit alongside, say Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, as a low-budget movie that provides high-powered chills.
In quite a casting coup, at least in the world of indie film-making, Senese has cast Shane Carruth as a psychiatrist who discovers an other-worldly secret. Carruth is familiar as writer/director of Upstream Color, a weird and wonderful sci-fi movie that defied categorisation, and his name alone should be a selling point here. Carruth plays Daniel Forrester, a doctor in a city hospital who takes on board an unusual patient. Michael Clark (Jeremy Childs) is a father and family man who has died, yet comes back to life in the mortuary and escapes to a hospital ward. Forrester wants to ascertain what’s really happened; the dead surely can’t come back to life? But if they did, what exactly would that mean for the living? Running parallel to Forrester’s investigation is Edward Graham (Bill Feehely) who looks into the bloody mayhem that Clark has left in his path, with a spiral design left in a blood-stained bathtub a central clue as to what’s happening…
The Dead Center is a hard, tough, absorbing watch, which takes a few cues from J-Horror and from Upstream Color itself. What’s lacking, perhaps, is the sense of poetry and beauty that Carruth’s breakthrough film had in abundance, but Sense’s world is bleaker and more foreboding still. As an actor, Carruth is fine, and has a lot to do, as does Feehely, excellent in a procedural role. But it’s Childs who really breaks out here, his strong physique and Thanos-sized melon making something sympathetic and yet terrifying of his unpredictable character.
The Dead Center is a dark and worrying film that posits an unstoppable apocalypse much like the one in Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby. Such genuine, weapons-grade nihilism will put off those looking for a horror-themed drama; for those looking for the dark side, The Dead Center hits the bulls-eye.