PLOT: A Vietnam veteran has a stroke, so his estranged son and granddaughter hire a live-in nurse to take care of him. Almost immediately, the candy striper goes from sweet to sour. Is she really tormenting the man, or is his paranoia just the first symptom of the onset ofÖ dementia?
REVIEW: A ghostly apparition walks down the hall, beckoning you. He stands facing a doorway, turns to look at you, then walks in. What movie is this from?
If a dozen people read this, theyíre going to have a dozen different answers. That kind of moment has become a mothballed clichť of modern horror, and it more or less opens DEMENTIA. It's a classic because it works, but it heralds what will be a recurring theme of the film: Nearly everything you see will remind you of another movie. This isnít the end of the world. Hell, James Wan has practically made a career out of repackaging old tropes in new and exciting ways. However, DEMENTIA is so derivative that itís all too easy to predict, which drives a stake into the heart of its tension.
The pacing doesnít do the film any favors, either. Scattered moments of heightened emotion pepper the otherwise generic slow burn procession like lumps in a bowl of mashed potatoes. They strike at random with next to no buildup, lending the overall tone a lurching, uneven quality like Frankensteinís Monster come to life. Itís the dictionary definition of ďthat escalated quickly.Ē The problem is that no central theme materializes from the disparate directions the plot takes, so thereís nothing to tether it all together.
For all that itís imperfect, DEMENTIA isnít necessarily bad: It can only afford one gore effect, but the one that makes the cut (so to speak) is certainly haunting. Thereís a terrific gag using the protagonistís habit of writing instructions step-by-step so he remembers what to do, and the soundtrack is surprisingly layered for such a low budget film. The score incorporates what sounds like buzzing flies to create a distinctive sound, and the jaunty arrangement of ďTapsĒ that opens the film proper is unforgettable.
The absolute best thing that DEMENTIA has to offer is without a doubt Kristina Klebe of HALLOWEEN 2007, in which she played Lynda ďTotallyĒ Van der Klok. There is not a nanometer of love lost between myself and Rob Zombieís remake, so you can understand how good her performance must be to earn back that goodwill. She is asked to do a lot of things that donít make sense, because practically every scene she has feels like itís from a different movie, but she unites it all under one coherent, indubitably creepy character.
Gene Jones (THE SACRAMENT) as the aged veteran is also a standout, though he is given even less to do. Most of his performance is spent getting in and out of bed, which might be exciting in a Kate Beckinsale movie, but not so much here. However, when heís given the opportunity to deliver some show stopping monologues in which the dark sides of his soul peek out around the edges, he brings the house down.
So yes, there is plenty that keeps DEMENTIA rolling (including a downright hilarious Steve Agee cameo), but it canít quite overcome its flaws. Plot elements are introduced then completely ignored, the ďwhatís in my mind, whatís realĒ approach is lazily discarded, and a major revelation is so drowned out by swelling music that you literally canít hear it. Itís completely unintelligible, which makes it a teensy bit hard to care about the drama. There are parts of this movie that just plain donít work.
However, thatís also what I said about SESSION 9 and people still tend to adore that movie. If you can handle the low-key low-yield thrills of that kind of moody, snailís pace thriller, then DEMENTIA might just be right up your alley. It doesnít change the game by any stretch of the imagination, but itís not an unbearable way to pass 90 minutes.