Shane Carruth’s The Dead Center Explained

Shane Carruth's The Dead Center Explained because it might need some explaining. But more importantly it's a fun to get another movie with Shane Carruth at the helm.
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<giddy school girl dance> So, I’ve been waiting and waiting for The Dead Center to drop. It’s a rare thing to have Shane Carruth star in a new film. He’s probably one of the greatest Indie Geek Cred Directors out there, with only two directorial releases under his belt: Upstream Color and Primer. So I am ultra giddy to bring to you Shane Carruth’s The Dead Center Explained.</giddy school girl dance>

But let me say this quickly at the outset, while it is true that Carruth starred in this film, and produced it, it doesn’t have the same production feel and quality of a Carruthian (Can I do that? I just did that. It’s now a thing.) project. Maybe it’s just the lighting, or the detailed designs of the sets? A certain je ne sais quoi. Please don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed this film. Had a ton of fun with it, and Billy Senese as the writer and director did a great job in his Sophomore debut.

So what is this The Dead Center all about? It follows a doctor at a mental health hospital, Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth) as he unwittingly encounters a dead man come back to life. John Doe (played by Jeremy Childs who also acted in Billy Senese‘s freshman debut, Closer to God) believes he has been changed by his encounter with death, but it’s up to Dr. Forrester to figure out how. (Yeah, that sounds pretty cheesy when I write it out like that, but it’s a great ride all the same.) If you haven’t seen the film, here’s a trailer. But make sure you click one of the streaming sites at the start of this post to watch before you continue on…

If you’ve never encountered THiNC. before, the first thing you have to know is that I’m not really a movie review site. I put stars up telling you how much I enjoyed the film, but that isn’t why I’m here. I love talking with people about movies, their meanings, and digging deep under the skin of how a film ticks. But, in order to do that, I gotta make sure that we are all on the same page first. And to do that, I generally walk through the details of what happened in the film, just to be certain we are all on the same page. Then we dive into the ‘What The Heck,’ of the film. Fair enough? But, if you haven’t watched the film yet, don’t scroll any further down the page. You’ll totally ruin the experience. I promise. Fair enough? Spend the 3 or 4 bucks, watch this movie with your neighborhood by projecting it onto the side of a house for Halloween (I recently lived in a neighborhood that did this exact sort of thing, I’m not making this up.) and then join us further down the page.

The Dead Center Overview

The movie follows John Doe – a corpse that comes back to life, and then is admitted as an unknown patient in the psych ward. Daniel Forrester, a doctor with a troubled past, but a compassionate heart, takes on the John Doe’s case, fully determined to figure out how to unravel his issues. After being comatose, John Doe and Forrester hold a troubling conversation that speaks to something much darker happening here than just a normal, run of the mill, psychosis:

“I died, and I came back, it wasn’t the first time. I can’t kill it, it came back with me in the fire. It wanted into this world – it’s inside of me now. It comes back at night – moves around inside of me. I kept cutting cutting until I was dead.”

“What is it that is inside of you?”

“Blackness spinning spinning. I can see its thoughts, the things that its done. It’s showing me things it’s going to do. When I killed myself I think I just made it stronger.

So yeah – not your average, ordinary, run of the mill insanity. John Doe, early on, has some sort of encounter with Travis, a nurse on the ward, which causes him to leave the hospital, only to turn up dead a little while later. Soon after, another elderly female is killed in much the same way. It sort of looks like Doe is sucking the life out of the individual?

Meanwhile, a cop is trying to track down the details surrounding John Doe’s death. He visits a hotel room filled with blood, where Doe took his own life. And he finds swirls and spirals scrawled in the blood. A little while later, the detective heads to the site of the fire where Doe should have died, but instead his wife was the only fatality of the fire. And then to the home of Doe’s parents, where he and his two children had been living after the fire. In the basement we see a wall of information and research that details outbreaks of mass deaths that were unexplained.

Forrester then gives John Doe Thiopental, a rapid-onset, but short acting barbiturate general anesthetic that slows the activity of your brain and nervous system. Forrester thinks that by giving Doe the drug he’ll be more apt to talk to him again. His ploy works and Doe immediately makes it clear that he needs to die. And fast. That Forrester needs to take a knife and cut his throat. And then he begins stabbing himself with the needle in an attempt to kill himself. Wait – wait. Why would John Doe think that Forrester killing himself would help? Doe had committed suicide earlier in the film, and it’s how we got into the mess we are in at this point in the film. Doe even said as much, saying that it got stronger after he died.

After which – the darkness inside John Doe flips back on after the Thiopental wears off, and he begins trying to murder Forrester in a similar fashion to how he had killed the others. And that is when Forrester begins seeing visions of the people who had been murdered before. Later, after breaking free from the constraints the hospital has put him in, Forrester goes back in and tries to kill John Doe. But not before Doe tells him that he remembers who he is. That his name is Michael Clark and that he remembers his children. And with that, Forrester attempts to kill him. And when Forrester’s boss catches on to what Forrester has been doing she tells him that Doe is being released.

The Conclusion of The Dead Center Explained

When Michael Clark is released from the hospital, under the custody of his father, both the detective and the doctor are hot on his tail. But…not hot enough, because by the time Dr. Forrester makes it to Clark’s neighborhood, Clark’s family, the detective, and half the neighborhood’s family’s have all been murdered by Clark – who is now moving from house to house as quickly as he can. And to what end? To dispatch as many people as physically possible.

Armed with a syringe of Thiopental and a tire iron, Daniel heads in to try and shut down the marauding monster. And as the two are beating each other senseless, Clark catches Daniel and begins sucking Daniel’s soul out of his face, but not before Daniel snaps out of it and beats Clark into a bloody pulp. But when Daniel is being treated for his cuts in an ambulance, he is completely out of it, and all but comatose. And while we stare at his face, lines of darkness begin spreading up through his cheeks and eyes…cut to black and roll credits.

A Few Theories that Explain that Ending

Theory #1 – Daniel Wins! – this theory is for those of you that hate dealing with the truth, and prefer your movies (even of the horror genre) to come with happy endings. Obviously Daniel wins, because Clark is a bloody mess, and Daniel is still alive. So HURRAY Shane, your character won the day!

Theory #2 – Michael Clark Takes a Nap – Remember in the beginning when Michael’s wife died in the fire? And when he probably died, but then came back? Oh, and then he committed suicide by draining all the blood out of his body? And then he came back again? Yeah, who’s to say that our good friend, Michael Clark, isn’t taking a breather before he gets up for another round of cardio workouts? Yeah. Fans of Theory 1 definitely don’t like this theory.

Theory #3 – Daniel is the Darkness – worse than all the evilness of Theory #2 is the idea that whatever evil that jumped into Michael Clark’s body in the fire, also found a way to jump hosts. That’s right, at the end of the movie, who’s to say that Daniel Forrester is the new John Doe, ready to head into the darkness and go house to house until John Doe’s job is completed.

I don’t know – but the only real theory that seems to make sense for this particular movie is the third one. So, I’m sorry to all of you that think that we got ourselves a happy ending here. There’s no way. But what about the evil that followed Clark back from the dead – what was that about?

Remember, Michael Clark left a suicide note before attempting to killing himself by draining the blood out of his body in the bathtub, and the note said, “I am the mouth of death. None are beyond my reach.” Which, we learn later, comes from a book entitled, “Covenant of Death.” (And, because I’m like this…I looked it up and it’s a fictional book. Which is always a bummer, because there is so much to learn from real books that usually sheds light on the larger picture of the movie). Regardless, the wall of research in the basement tells the story of unexplained death outbreaks that have broken out for as long as history was recorded. Each outbreak accounted for thousands and thousands of dead, and it was always misunderstood. Sometimes it was misunderstood as a Flu epidemic. But generally it was written off as a biological outbreak. Instead of seen as the spiritual assault that it was. (Spiritual? What else do you call it when something enters from the beyond through a returning dead person? Literally not a rhetorical question.)

So, what I am understanding is that The Dead Center is positing that many of the world’s worst biological outbreaks of mass death were actually evil devouring the world. Bubonic Plague? No. It was actually a John Doe sucking the souls out of the people throughout Europe. Flu epidemic? No, it was actually John Doe again.

Final Thoughts on The Dead Center

The Dead Center was a fun little ride. I mainly enjoyed seeing Shane again (yes, yes, Shane and I are on a first name basis.) and watching him take the helm of a role. Even if it was for a fairly basic, run-of-the-mill thriller/horror script idea. Would I have preferred watching Mr. Carruth just reading his script for his unfinished film, “Atopiary” to us? Well, YEAH. Would I have preferred to wait if it meant finally getting his movie “The Modern Ocean” out to us eventually? Yes. Yes, I would. But as far as tastes of the Carruth go – this wasn’t half bad at all. If you just finished watching, and are jonesing for another go at the man – this short film is brilliant, and may do the trick. For now anyway.

Or, if that wasn’t quite enough – what about this? “We’ll Find Something” was a fun script that reunited Carruth with Amy Seimetz, who he was once engaged to, apparently.

Anyway, thanks Shane for reminding us of how much fun you are to watch on screen.

Edited by: CY