Just because you’re suffering from dementia doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone out to get you, but how do you prove it?
While choosing a movie for this week’s column, I was caught by the title of this film. I’ve worked with patients with Alzheimer’s Disease for most of my adult life. I have family suffering with the illness. The idea of a horror movie from the perspective of someone dealing with the illness intrigued me to say the least.
After suffering a stroke, George (Gene Jones, The Hateful Eight), an aging vet, is diagnosed with dementia. His estranged son Jerry (Peter Cilella, The Endless) comes to get him back on his feet with his daughter Shelby (Hassie Harrison, A-X-L). Realizing George may need more help than they are equipped to give, they hire Michelle (Kristina Klebe, Halloween), a nurse who comes to check on George’s recovery to stay with him.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Michelle has her own agenda and helping George recover isn’t part of it. But is she a sadistic Nurse Ratched? Or does she have another ulterior motive? And is George an innocent victim or does his past hold some dark secrets?
First, the good. There are elements of the story that are intriguing and very well done. Initially, we aren’t sure whether Michelle is messing with George or if it is really all a part of his dementia. This is aided by powerful performances by both Jones and Klebe who deliver knock-out punches in their respective roles. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat right up to the last minute.
The family dynamic feels very real. George is likable despite his horrible past and is attempting to make amends. Jerry is bitter remembering the alcoholic and abusive father her grew up with and can’t let go despite George’s attempts to change. Shelby is caught in the middle and simply wants to get to know her grandfather.
But despite ultimately enjoying the movie, there were elements that didn’t sit well with me.
The way in which Michelle is hired by the family is completely unrealistic. She shows up on the doorstep claiming to be from the hospital, but she presents no identification, no one thinks to check her background or credentials before hiring her as a live-in nurse, and even if she does work for the hospital as she claims, has the writer never heard of a non-compete clause? It’s a very phony feeling moment, in an otherwise well-told story.
What really bothered me though, is that none of the characters are easy to like or root for, not even Shelby, who despite her kind overtures to her grandfather and her attempt to ease the bad feelings between Jerry and George, is popping his medication whenever she’s alone and helping herself to family heirlooms.
In a twist ending, we learn George’s secret, and it completely restructures how you viewed the previous 80 minutes. I am still undecided about whether it was a bold move or completely gutted the movie for me.
Regardless, Dementia gets a solid recommend, if for no other reason the performances of Gene Jones and Kristina Klebe.
Days later, I still have mixed feelings about the connections and the twist at the end, but maybe what ultimately bothered me is that it was too real for a movie. The reality that those we deem as good guys may not always be the noble paragons we perceive and the bad guys may be not be as evil as we expect can be a hard narrative to digest, but it does make for thought-provoking cinema.