Overview: When George, a disabled war veteran, suffers a stroke and is diagnosed with dementia, he’s placed in the care of a live-in nurse with a menacing dark side who puts him through terror as brutal as anything he faced in Vietnam. IFC Films; 2015; Not Rated; 90 minutes.
What the Movie Does Right: Dementia has a lot going for it: A natural and engaging story, potentially fascinating themes, and, more than anything else, a stellar performance from Gene Jones. Jones carries the film through any of its flaws with a harrowing performance, and Mike Testin, who makes his directorial debut with Dementia, asks a lot from Jones. George is a multi-faceted character who manages to be simultaneously awful and likable, which becomes more and more clear as Dementia dives into his past, but for the most part, he feels like our hero. And Jones is to thank for that, as he gives the kind of skilled performance that you don’t typically see in low-budget thrillers. Then there’s Kristina Klebe, who plays the caretaker Michelle, and who deserves recognition for her work as well. She teeters carefully between rational, controlled, and terrifyingly turbulent, and as a villain, Klebe steps up to the plate with plenty of confidence. Because I’d never want to spoil anything, I won’t talk much about film’s twists and turns, but what I will say is that because of the strong acting throughout, everything feels earned, even if you are able to predict what’s going to happen in the end.
What the Movie Does Wrong: Dementia is fine for what it is, namely a tense, well-acted thriller that creeps up on you and earns its final twist, but I desperately wish it had lingered longer with many of its deeper questions. So many fascinating themes could have been explored, such as the way we treat our aging population, the question of how much one person really can change throughout the course of a life, and what it means to be a villain in a world filled with gray moral areas. But frustratingly, Dementia skirts over most of its potential, focusing instead on over-the-top flashbacks and cat-and-mouse style torture scenes.
Overall: Even if Dementia won’t stick with you very long after the credits roll, it’s worth your time, especially if you, like me, are looking for any excuse to take a break from the holiday madness.