Thanks to an outstanding performance from Gene Jones (The Sacrament), Dementia ranks rather highly among films dealing with a confused reality, although it does have a few problems that keep it from being great.
Jones stars as Vietnam war veteran George Lockhart, spending his senior years in a home he built himself. He managed to survive being a POW in the war, but his latest battle may finally be his last. George collapses on his lawn one day, suffering a mild stroke. His son Jerry (Peter Cilella) and granddaughter Shelby (Hassie Harrison) head out to take care of him, but Jerry and George have a difficult relationship. George is now struggling with dementia, and Jerry just wants to find somewhere for George to be taken care of. When Michelle (Kristina Klebe) arrives from the hospital to give him a check-up, she suggests that home care may be best. Jerry and Shelby agree, and immediately hire Michelle for the job. George begins having problems with Michelle right away, but is it his dementia that is causing his strange thoughts, or is Michelle attempting to actually kill George?
It really is Jones who helps make Dementia the film that it is. While Cilella and Harrison do wonderfully in their roles and are certainly convincing in their fractured family relationship, it’s Jones who gives the movie its best moments. His dementia is in early stages, so the few struggles he does have are quite believable and heartbreaking. We can see that he is an incredibly proud man who is now forced to rely on others for assistance, something that may be all too familiar a story for some.
Where things falter a little is with Klebe as his caregiver Michelle. The mystery of whether it’s George’s dementia or that Michelle is psychotic is really no mystery at all. It doesn’t help that Klebe is over the top in her performance. Wondering why nobody ever just calls the police or just goes away is a problem every horror or thriller has to overcome, but usually it’s easy to accept that they won’t. With Dementia, the characters are so true to life that seeing Michelle and her cartoon villainy makes it very hard to believe they wouldn’t just get rid of her right away.
Klebe’s performance picks at the sides of the story, threatening to pull it all apart before it gets going, but it never really comes undone, mainly due to the performances of everybody else involved. It would have been nice if the film had attempted to blur the lines between reality and what George may be imagining, but it’s all forgiven once the film reaches its shocking conclusion.
At that point, everything you’ve felt, seen, heard, and imagined is given information that is initially hard to process. It’s a gut punch that makes you question everything that came before, and it will stick with you after the film is finished.
Is Dementia Worth Watching?
It can feel a little silly at times with Michelle almost looking like she’s twirling her curled moustache, but a shock ending and a great performance from Jones make it all worthwhile.