Directed by Mike Testin
Written by Meredith Berg
Starring Gene Jones, Kristina Klebe, Hassie Harrison, Peter Cilella, Richard Riehle, Steve Agee, Julian Bane, Molly McQueen, Morgan Peter Brown, Ruben Pla, Marc Senter, Graham Skipper
Strong performances lay ahead in Mike Testin’s DEMENTIA, but the story itself and some huge late in the game technical problems make this one difficult to recommend.
After suffering a stroke, Vietnam vet George (Gene Jones) is diagnosed with dementia and his son Jerry (Peter Cilella) and granddaughter Shelby (Hassie Harrison), who live out of town, feel ill-prepared to take care of him. When a nurse named Michelle (Kristina Klebe) pops in to check up on George, her knowledge of ways to care for patients with dementia impresses his family enough to immediately invite her into the home to take care of him. Almost immediately Michelle starts showing abusive tendencies, but when George tries to tell his family about the abuse, Michelle blames it on his illness and it’s up to George to remember his combat skills (and some dark secrets from his past) to take on the nutty nurse.
The main problem with this film is that if Jerry and his daughter had taken five minutes to check up on Nurse Michelle, they would have found out crucial information that would have stopped the entire conflict. Anyone else would run a check on someone taking care of a loved one, so to hang an entire movie on neglecting that detail makes the whole thing fall apart afterward. There are ways around this, but it just doesn’t feel like the filmmakers wanted to think this film through all the way to make it work, or maybe they just didn’t care. Most of the story is told in this lazy kind of manner, with the story culminating in a bizarre way in which characters’ true colors across the board show them in a not-so-great light. I understand trying to tell a story with grey characters rather than true black and white but bucking convention and tossing out logic are two completely different things.
But there’s a bigger problem with this film rather than the hole-ridden beginning and the muddy ending. Through the entire film, the music is pretty intense and wants to sell some moments as more shocking than they truly are. But in both the DVD and BluRay versions of this film I checked out, the final five minutes of this film has a musical score that is so loud, you can’t even understand what the actors are saying to one another. That would have been ok if the film focused mainly on action, but this is the point in the film where Michelle reveals her motivation, George drops a bombshell about his past, and Shelby makes a crucial decision regarding all of the info dropped. Because one cannot make out exactly what the dialog actually is, this massive info dump at the end wraps everything up in a messy and unfortunate manner. Now, I think even if I would have heard the dialog at the end of the film, I would have been disappointed that the story needs both hero and villain a chance to drop some heavy discourse in order to wrap things up.
Despite the clumsy story and sound gaffes, Gene Jones is really good here, as he is in every role I’ve seen him in (that being Ty West’s THE SACRAMENT and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Here Jones conveys an old man’s stubbornness with vulnerability in ways that one rarely sees. Kristina Klebe is very good here as Michelle the psycho nurse. While it isn’t the depthy performance she gave in PROXY (reviewed here), she still is strong in her role as the nurse. But two good roles don’t make a movie, and there’s too much wrong with DEMENTIA to recommend it. Fans of Jones will want to check it out and there are some solid chills (warning to cat lovers, though, as you’ll be pissed at the way George’s cat ends up), but the story just didn’t follow through with the performances the strong cast offered.