Soon after a curiously catatonic patient mysteriously appears in a chaotic emergency psych ward, bodies start dropping. While overly empathetic Dr. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth) tries to get answers out of this man (Jeremy Childs), across town a taciturn coroner (Bill Feehely) searches for the body of a suicide victim that has gone missing. Where these two narratives meet lies the supernatural psychological mystery of Billy Senese’s “The Dead Center.”
There isn’t much more to the plot than the inevitable collision of these two stories, but writer/director Senese effectively builds the world and characters of this psych ward. Dr. Forrester has been admonished for his overzealous approach to treatment in the overcrowded facility, overseen by his exasperated superior, Dr. Sarah Grey (Poorna Jagannathan). The supernatural elements are obtuse but appropriately creepy as patients and nurses are picked off.
It’s fun to see Carruth, also a producer on the movie and a filmmaker known for his own metaphysical indie films like “Primer” and “Upstream Color,” playing in the world of this more straightforward genre fare. Senese builds atmosphere and tone well, making the most of his locations and performers on a tight budget, though the sound design is irritating more than anything else. Carruth’s troubled performance holds the piece together until it loses the thread on its own tenuous mythology, descending into incoherent cacophony.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills