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 doomed 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 a la Misery.
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 hilarious 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.