SHOCK reviews excellent psychological mystery DEMENTIA.
Not that the Oscars mean anything but they might if they Academy would look beyond the heavily campaigned, studio-steered slag heap and pay heed to smaller movies ripe with idea, innovation and quality performance. They would if they would only recognize palpable turns like the one by veteran actor Gene Jones (THE SACRAMENT) in director Mike Testin’s DEMENTIA, an engrossing, evolved chiller out now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
Jones stars as a lonely, ailing Vietnam vet who, after a stroke, wakes in hospital to learn that on top of his attack, he is also in the thralls of dementia. When his estranged son and granddaughter re-enter his life, George returns home with them, battling grim memories of his time in a POW camp while trying to keep his deteriorating mind on track. But George’s son still isn’t sold on his father, having bad memories of his own growing up with a man he remembers as an abusive alcoholic. He hires a seemingly idyllic nurse named Michelle (Kristina Klebe) to be his dad’s in-home caregiver, something George balks at but eventually accepts. Thing is, Michelle has demons too. And they involve George. And faster than you can say “Annie Wilkes”, Michelle has George imprisoned in a drug-battered trap of emotional and physical abuse. But who is the victim, really?
DEMENTIA is a solid piece of psychological filmmaking. A simple set-up, sparse locations, minimal cast and exemplary technical craft, the movie is tight and suspenseful and creatively directed by Testin and boasts a suspenseful score by Jason Turbin. Ample credit must also go to the literate screenplay by Meredith Berg, a smart, serious and complex work that refuses to cut clear lines between good and evil and offers many subtle twists and intense dialogue exchanges.
But as good as DEMENTIA is, its chief strength lies in Jones’ mesmerizing performance. His George is a sad, broken relic of a man, struggling to make peace with his past and trying to see through the accelerating haze of his present. He’s our initial point of entry into the story and we see the world through his eyes,a victim, misunderstood and at the mercy of torments undeserved. And then, when Berg starts to shift the narrative onto George’s granddaughter (Hassie Harrison), we begin to see George differently, as others might see him. It’s a fascinating structural way of deepening its central character and keeping the audience engaged in the movie’s central mystery.
Scream Factory doesn’t offer any substantial extras on their release and that’s unfortunate as I really wanted to know more, to spend some time with the people that put this crackerjack thriller together. But no matter, the movie speaks loudly enough for itself. See it.