Written by Meredith Berg and directed by Mike Testin “Dementia” is a thriller about a Vietnam war hero; George Lockhart (Gene Jones) who is felled by a stroke and requires home care. Nurse Michelle (Kristina Klebe) is hired by his son and granddaughter to look after the veteran, who has also been diagnosed with the onset of dementia, and she turns out to have a hidden agenda.
The film starts with Lockhart chasing off two bullies with a rifle and while giving the victim advice, the man has a stroke. George may be a war hero, but he is a tortured individual with a secret or two of his own. One of these comes back to haunt him.
Lockhart brought home injuries after being tortured in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. Like many others with PTSD George had an alcohol problem was was prone to violence. His son dislikes him and is happy to leave him in the care of a stranger. George’s granddaughter Shelby (Hassie Harrison) is concerned about Michelle and feels something is not right about the nurse.
Michelle mistreats George when his family are not around and gives him medication that has not been prescribed. Lockhart tries to fight back against Michelle but she is in charge and isolates him from everyone. Shelby starts investigating the nurse and her fears intensify.
The film is classified as a horror thriller. While the plot may not be overly complex, we figure out early on that there is something wrong with Michelle, it is not until later that it becomes clear that this is personal with the nurse. This is not a random event; Michelle has picked George for a reason.
“Dementia” has gotten a fairly low rating on IMDb. However Rotten Tomatoes has given the film pretty positive feedback. Overall, this is a great low budget horror/thriller with a story that is compelling. The message being that forced death, at any age, changes people in deep and disturbing ways.
George Lockhart emerged from his experiences in the Vietnam War as a bit of a monster, racked by flashbacks, rage and murderous intent. The decorated veteran is not a nice man but he was changed by the war and his treatment by the enemy inflected long lasting damage.
Klebe’s character was also formed by her history and chillingly, we learn that she has been searching a long time for George.
Perhaps the only real problem, apart from the fact that dementia is a disturbing disease that many have had personal connections with, is that none of the characters are overly likable. Certainly George starts off that way, but all too soon, his dementia and his son’s feelings about Lockhart change how the audience view him.
Jones, whom I’d only ever seen in “No Country for Old Men” (as the petrol station owner who bets his life on a quarter), gives a brilliant performance here. He causes us to pity him one moment and then fear him the next. His reveal, caused by Michelle’s carefully cruel orchestrations, ultimately destroys any empathy we have for his character.
Klebe gives great “nut-job” as she gets further into her job as punisher. Initially the actress plays the professional card beautifully to two relatives who never bother to check her credentials. Once Klebe’s character is in control, she starts very slowly to unravel the cloak of normalcy and reveals the madness underneath. Kristina is scary in the film and may keep many from ever considering live-in care for a loved one.
Harrison, as Shelby, does well but, once again, her character is not overly likable either. A granddaughter who steals George’s medication does not endear the audience to her cause. She also lies about the necklace, which she thought was her grandmother’s, and one gets the feeling that she may only be trying to get on with George for gain and not any real sense of family.
The real message here is the realization that our lives are shaped by experiences and that tragedy (murder) manifests itself in horrible ways. It can also be said that in this film, as in real life, heroes are not always nice people and that war is a gift that keeps on giving.
“Dementia” is a 3.5 star film that is available on Netflix, and via DVD and Blu-Ray, from May 17. This is a cracking little movie that, if you pay attention, will entertain the viewer and make them think. Catch this one if you can.