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Film / The Dead Center

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The Dead Center is a horror movie written and directed by Billy Senese. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth, of Primer and Upstream Color) is a troubled psychiatrist who handles the case of an unusual patient brought into the emergency psych ward. Initially in a catatonic state, this John Doe can't remember his name, family, or how he even got to the hospital. As Dr. Forrester uses his medical expertise to unravel the mystery, he realizes there's something far more dangerous and evil involved.

The film had simultaneous limited theater and streaming releases on October 11, 2019. The trailer can be found here.


This film provides examples of:

  • All Therapists Are Muggles: This is a given, considering the realistic setting of the movie. Early on Dr. Forrester thinks it's some kind of catatonia or dissociative amnesia. But once he gets John Doe into a trance, interviews him, and a couple of people die, he puts the pieces together fairly quickly.
  • Ambiguous Ending: There are a few different ways the ending could play out. Does Dr. Forrester succeed in stopping the demon by killing Michael? Or did Michael even die? And if he did, what's stopping the demon from reviving him a third time? Is the demon just laying low and waiting for Dr. Forrester to leave, so it can be discovered by the cops? Or can the demon Body Surf and transferred itself into Dr. Forrester, thus giving it a newer, healthier host? The lines growing on his face certainly imply something is happening to him. The movie ends without resolving any of these.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: The entire reason John Doe is taken to the psych ward is because the hospital doctors couldn't figure out what was causing the catatonia. Turns out it's a side effect of Demonic Possession.
    • Dr. Forrester himself isn't entirely well. He's a loner, has trouble expressing emotions, a cold demeanor, and can be manipulative. He also calls Dr. Gray in the middle of the night, only to give up trying to explain what's happening. Given Dr. Gray and her husband's reaction, this isn't the first time Dr. Forrester has done this. It's revealed that his mother committed suicide, and he found the body.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends with an ambulance.
  • Broken Ace: Dr. Forrester is excellent at what he does, and he has a kind heart. But he has trouble expressing emotions, is a loner, and will resort to illegal methods to get patients the care he thinks they need.
  • Came Back Wrong: John Doe is introduced as a suicide victim whose corpse somehow came back to life. He's left a weak, wheezing, catatonic wreck. It's eventually revealed that his name is Michael Clark, and he and his wife were supposed to die in a house fire. But a demon went into him and brought him back to life. Once he figured out what happened, he tried killing himself via draining all of the blood from his body to stop the demon, but it revived him again.
  • Death Seeker: John Doe tells Dr. Forrester directly, in no uncertain terms, to kill him. He's still lucid enough to know that the demon has to be stopped there and then within the confines of the psych ward, before it can get out and devour more people. It's also revealed during Dr. Graham's investigation that John Doe was suicidal before that; he drained his entire body of blood, but came back to life anyway.
  • Demonic Possession: Michael Clark was supposed to die alongside his wife in a house fire, but a demon entered his body and brought him back to life. Once he found out what was happening, he tried committing suicide via blood loss. The demon brought him back again, and now intends to consume the souls of everyone it possibly can.
  • Dies Wide Open: A deleted scene reveals this is how John Doe died the second time.
  • Enemy Within: John Doe spends most of the movie dealing with this. The demon wins.
  • Fighting from the Inside: John Doe is catatonic for most his time in the psych ward, because the demon is slowly taking over his body. In the brief moments he's lucid, he's fully aware of what's happening and tells Dr. Forrester to kill him before it's too late.
  • Freudian Couch: Dr. Forrester is introduced waking up on the couch in his office. It's an early indicator that he's overworked and may have his own mental health issues.
  • Hospital Gurney Scene: Played for stark realism. There is no dramatic, crowded rush to get John Doe treated. He's wheeled out to his room by one nurse down a quiet hallway, who asks for help from the attending nurse to help him safely transfer John's body from the gurney to the bed. The attending nurse even mutters how much John weighs. If you've ever worked in, stayed in, or visited someone in a hospital, you know how common this setting is. However, this is played entirely straight in one of the deleted scenes.
  • Hospital Hottie: With the exception of Dr. Gray as played by the gorgeous Poorna Jagannathan, everyone else wouldn't look out of place in a real psych ward.
  • Madness Mantra: One of the other psych ward patients repeats a list of complaints while his doctor gets him to take his meds.
  • Kind Restraints: Shown realistically at a couple of points, as some of the patients are dangerous to themselves and others.
  • Mask of Sanity: John Doe suddenly gets his memory and awareness back and demands to see his kids. His real name was Michael Clark, but his body was taken over by the demon pretending to be Michael, to get him out of the psych ward quickly.
  • Mental Health Recovery Arc: At first, Dr. Forrester thinks he has just another - if unusual - patient. Aside from the supernatural/horror aspects, the movie portrays this trope with surprising, sobering realism. John Doe is sent to the emergency psych ward because the hospital doctors don't know what to do with him. And even then, he's no shape to fill out the consent forms. Dr. Forrester secretly - and illegally - admits him into the ward, because he knows John Doe would probably get left to rot in the streets otherwise. And even then, John Doe can't legally be put under involuntary hold for more than 72 hours, and Dr. Forrester resorts to hypnosis to quickly figure out what's wrong with him. There often aren't enough medical staff on hand, so sometimes patients go unsupervised, with tragic results. While John Doe eventually remembers things, it's really the demon imitating or giving him enough clarity to be released. The scene of his panicking father coming to pick him up after thinking John had died is exactly how these situations can play out.
  • Mind Rape: Just a brief exposure to the demon's soul sucking power is enough to give Dr. Forrester disturbing visions of previous victims and leave him a nervous wreck.
  • Moment of Lucidity: John Doe has only a few of these, just long enough to give a very muddled overview of what happened to him, and to flat out tell Dr. Forrester to kill him. He finally remembers his real name and demands to see his kids, but it's really due to the demon completely taking him over and pretending to be normal in order to get discharged faster.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Turns out dissociative amnesia is a symptom of Demonic Possession.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The psychiatrist ward is full of professionals and well-prepared for mentally ill people. They are not prepared for actual demons.
  • Possession Burnout: John Doe's body is a physical wreck due to this, and it's possible the demon transferred to Dr. Forrester because John's body was too badly damaged in their final encounter.
  • Police Are Useless: The results are mixed. As a medical examiner, Dr. Graham does a great job at tracking down information on his missing John Doe, though he only finds his exact location due to the demon taking over and giving the hospital staff Michael's information, and even then he got there too late to stop Michael's dad from taking him home. He gets killed pretty quickly in the final confrontation as well. Also, the psych ward security is very effective at subduing Dr. Forrester, but do a pretty mediocre job at guarding and securing him. Also, the local police arrive just in time to unintentionally distract the demon, and competently handle the neighborhood cleanup.
  • Psycho Psychologist: What the rest of the staff thinks is happening to Dr. Forrester, but he's trying to kill John Doe before the demon can kill again.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Dr. Forrester is a psychiatrist who demonstrates multiple times how he's cool and professional with dealing with clients. That's what makes it especially shocking when he loses it after figuring out John Doe killed one of his coworkers and his other patient, then confronts and attacks him.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Once Dr. Graham tracks down John Doe's parents, he's shown what John was working on the week before he ended up in the hospital: a big board with newspaper clippings and copies of photographs of genocides and mass death events from all over the world, and entries from the Covenant of Death, translated from Vedic Sanskrit. John also made another spiral pattern on the floor nearby.
  • Reluctant Psycho: What Dr. Forrester thinks is going on with John Doe. John Doe is being driven insane and being taken over via Demonic Possession.
  • Sanity Slippage: Dr. Forrester's sanity clearly took a hit when the demon briefly attacks him for the first time. He's still well enough to function and beat Michael Clark to death, but how much he has left by the end of the movie is debatable.
  • The Shrink: Personal issues and illegal methods aside, Dr. Forrester is shown to be quite good at what he does.
  • Soul Eating: The demon takes its victims' lives through their mouths, and gains strength with each one.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Despite being horror movie, much of it is firmly grounded in reality.
    • John Doe is sent to the psych ward because he randomly showed up at the hospital, and the doctors couldn't figure out what's wrong with him.
    • Dr. Forrester admits John Doe into the ward because he knows that such a patient would likely get dumped in a corner somewhere and be forgotten instead of treated. He does this without doing any consent paperwork or even running it by Dr. Gray - his boss - who had just told him that all his cases had to be approved by her. This is illegal, and ends up coming back to haunt him.
    • Working in an emergency psych ward is stressful; not only are some patients dangerous to themselves and others, but the place is sometimes understaffed, leaving gaps in care and security.
    • Dr. Forrester is great at his job, but his flouting of the rules and emotional issues aren't seen as quirky or endearing, but put a strain on his relationships with his coworkers.
    • Dr. Gray is furious she finds out what's been going on. It's not just about the personal betrayal, but the professional fallout. She's completely right to think that Dr. Forrester basically kidnapped, drugged, and assaulted a helpless patient. Had the whole Demonic Possession situation not happened, John Doe's family could've easily sued the hospital.
  • There Are No Therapists: Utterly averted, as the main character is a psychiatrist, and the majority of the film takes place in an emergency psych ward.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: How the hospital nurse first finds John Doe, laying on his side in a bed with his eyes wide open.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Demonic Possession and being brought back from the dead twice is definitely traumatic. Dr. Forrester has to resort to hypnosis and strong medication to get anything out of his patient. John Doe is surprisingly lucid in these moments, but can't explain what's going on well enough.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Dr. Forrester briefly tries to explain what's going on to Dr. Gray. But she won't listen because she's livid at him for not only secretly admitting a patient, but seemingly assaulting him as well.

I am the mouth of death. None are beyond my reach.