The Dead Center doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s more effective than most horror films


The Dead Center is about a man who comes back to life after dying. If I had a quarter for every film that had a similar premise, I’d have a fortune (or a couple hundred dollars). In spite of the lack of originality, The Dead Center is remarkably cool-headed and minimalist, and it redeems it enough to make the film watchable.

The Dead Center opens with obfuscated, disembodied voices conversing with screaming and fire in the background. The audience presumes that this is the sound of hell, and it is, because this movie isn’t smart enough to subvert, only effective enough to repeat really well. The camera cuts to an aerial shot of an ambulance. The camera struggles to keep the ambulance in the center of the frame, and the low budget shows a little, but the film generally holds its own. As a matter of fact, the film is excellently shot on its tight budget, and it scares very effectively.

But the film was still a letdown. I’ve never seen another film by Billy Senese, but I did see the star, Shane Carruth’s other films, Upstream Color and Primer, and they are some of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. Upstream Color especially, is a testament to the capabilities of a microbudgeted film. His involvement in this project, even if he was quoted as saying that he was purely an actor, gave the expectation that this movie would, at the very least, be a smartly made film. Instead, this is a film that is incredibly effective, but holds up poorly to any kind of scrutiny. The Dead Center, I daresay, is a dumb movie.

It’s a sum of parts that makes this movie dumb. Other than the recycled nature of it, some of the character connections seem weak and some of the character motivations feel unclear. Moreover, the plot sometimes interrupts the rest of the movie. When a movie is so effective technically, letting up on the scares is folly, because it gives the audience time to consider the absurdity of the plot.