Shane Carruth Careens Though Madness in The Dead Center

None are beyond the reach of the mouth of death.

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.

It’s indie cinema’s loss that Shane Carruth has only directed two films, 2004’s Primer and 2013’s Upstream Color. Director Billy Senese’s horror movie The Dead Center is also Carruth’s first starring role in someone else’s film, and it suggests co-producer Carruth could have had a side career as a leading man if he’d wanted. Hospital psychiatrist Daniel (Carruth) is determined to help a John Doe (Jeremy Childs) who stumbles upstairs from the morgue, where he had already been tagged and bagged. Daniel’s job is made difficult both by his own personal demons, and the fact that bodies are starting to pile up in the psych ward. Meanwhile, in a separate narrative stream, medical examiner Edward (Bill Feehely) gets his Quincy on as he investigates Doe’s true identity. The characters are written well enough that the film could have still worked without the supernatural element. But much like his previous film Closer to God, Senese isn’t afraid to swerve The Dead Center into full-on pulp, including Edward discovering that always-welcome expositional device: The Wall of Relevant Newspaper Clippings. Senese also makes great use of the sound design, and glitchy visuals which are unnerving without resorting to cheap jump scares. But most importantly, The Dead Center gives us more Carruth, and he brings the film to life.

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