It’s all too easy for film­mak­ers to over­think their sto­ry­line.  This can be real­ly dan­ger­ous in a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller.  This gen­re demands a clar­i­ty of pur­pose that plays itself out in how infor­ma­tion is doled out to the audi­ence and keep­ing their atten­tion focused in par­tic­u­lar areas so the storyline’s hooks and sur­pris­es can have max­i­mum effect.  If this bal­anc­ing act isn’t cau­tious­ly main­tained from start to fin­ish, the whole enter­prise is Dement-bludoomed to col­lapse in on itself.

Dementia illus­trates the prob­lems of main­tain that bal­anc­ing act.  The core con­cept is com­pelling: the soli­tary life of griz­zled Vietnam War vet­er­an George (Gene Jones) is dis­rupt­ed when he suf­fers a stroke that caus­es neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lems.  His estranged son Jerry (Peter Cilella) is try­ing to fig­ure out what to do when nurse Michelle (Kristina Klebe) shows up and presents her­self as an expert on his con­di­tion.  Jerry glad­ly turns over the reins but she reveals her­self to be cru­el to the old man when oth­ers aren’t around. George has to strug­gle again­st his con­di­tion to fig­ure a way out and col­lege-age grand­daugh­ter Shelby (Hassie Harrison) might be his only hope — but Michelle will put them both to the test.

Sadly, Dementia doesn’t live up to the promise of its con­cept.  Meredith Berg’s script los­es sight of the fact that the bat­tle of wills between George and Michelle should be the heart of the piece.  Cliched fam­i­ly dra­ma, Scooby Doo-lev­el sleuthing and pseudo–Rolling Thunder flash­backs clut­ter the sto­ry­line, con­stant­ly tak­ing us out what should have been a duo act à la Dement-01Misery.

That’s not the only prob­lem with the screen­play: Michelle is a card­board-thin psy­cho stereo­type who gives her­self away long before her moti­va­tion is revealed, most of the oth­er char­ac­ters are unpleas­ant to the point of being annoy­ing and there’s a huge plot­hole in how Michelle eas­i­ly lands the job with­out hav­ing her ref­er­ences checked. The premise rides the edge of bad taste in how it exploits the ill­ness of demen­tia and elder abuse and the twist-hap­py finale is both anti­cli­mac­tic and point­less­ly nasty.

Dementia looks great thanks to direc­tor Mike Testin, who has a back­ground in cin­e­matog­ra­phy, and the film’s cen­tral house loca­tion is an atmos­pher­ic set­ting.  Unfortunately, he can’t con­quer the bumpy plot and gets mid­dling per­for­mances from his cast.  Klebe suf­fers from a poor­ly-real­ized char­ac­ter­i­za­tion but makes the prob­lem worse by going over the top too quick­ly (an unin­ten­tion­al­ly Dement-02hilar­i­ous moment has her pulling the head off a doll while in a store).

The sav­ing grace of Dementia is a strong per­for­mance by Jones as its anti-hero.  Even when the sto­ry­line is work­ing again­st him with an unpleas­ant back­sto­ry, he brings both grav­i­tas and an intense yet low-key pres­ence that keeps the film watch­able.  If the film could have kept the pace with his steady work, it could have been a Gran Torino for the horror/thriller crowd.  Instead, Dementia suf­fers from a sto­ry that is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly over­com­pli­cat­ed and under­cooked in its most impor­tant areas.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just issued this title on blu-ray.  The trans­fer offers a qual­i­ty pre­sen­ta­tion of the dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, which is full of shad­owy inte­ri­ors, and well-mixed 5.1 and 2.0 stereo sound­track options in loss­less form.  The one extra is a trail­er.