HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEMENTIA (2015)

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DEMENTIA (2015)

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Flick has Viet Nam vet George (Gene Jones from The Sacrament) suffering a stroke, bringing his estranged son Jerry (Peter Cilella) and the granddaughter he never knew, Shelby (Hassie Harrison from Southbound) to care for him. When it is revealed he is also suffering from the beginnings of dementia, Peter hires nurse Michelle (Kristina Klebe from RZ’s Halloween and Tales Of Halloween) to be his live-in caretaker. The moment she moves in, her treatment of George starts to go from strict to abusive and strange things start to occur that Michelle is blaming on George’s illness. Is George’s dementia making him hallucinate, or is this woman some kind of psychotic? George thinks she’s crazy, but will anyone believe him?

There is a good basic story hidden in Meredith Berg’s off-kilter script, but the screenplay is weak and director Mike Testin decides to take the flick into over-the-top territory that spills it into camp. Michelle goes from woman with a dark secret to Wicked Witch of the West very quickly and it neuters the initial success of the story quickly once Klebe starts talking to herself and bugging out her eyes. She is so obviously minus a few screws that it’s almost funny that only Shelby seems to notice…aside from George. There is some good stuff here. It is really disturbing when we first get the impression that George is being mistreated by his nurse. The Viet Nam background adds a twist to the story that interestingly places everything in a grey area in the last act, as we learn Michelle’s true identity and purpose and that George may not be as innocent a victim as we are lead to believe. Problem with this is that the filmmakers should have been more clever about it and not gone so over-the-top with the characters’ behavior. We get tipped off quite early that Michelle is indeed off her rocker and the Viet Nam flashbacks reveal a little too much, so when all the cards are placed on the table, we are already expecting the hand dealt. A little tighter script and a bit of restraint on the director’s part could have made this a very disturbing and intense thriller, but instead it’s campy and we can see the plot twists coming. Sometimes it’s just sloppy such as Michelle binding and gagging Shelby with duct tape in one scene and then suddenly Shelby being conveniently free, minutes later when her participation in a crucial scene requires it. The last we saw her, she wasn’t going anywhere. It comes across as lazy and careless, which is a shame because the basic story and it’s reveals could have made for a really intense thriller with some interesting surprises.

The cast are actually quite good despite the tone of the film veering into camp territory. Gene Jones is solid as cantankerous and stubborn George. We really feel for him when he is forced to deal with his dementia and even more when Michelle starts to mistreat him. When we learn more about how this all links to his time as a POW in Viet Nam, he plays that well too. Klebe is good, especially in the early stages before things get over-the-top and a bit campy. She at first seems pleasant, but we get a hint that something is up with her and then is effective even when required to go full blown Mommie Dearest in the second half of the film. Subtle was working better for the story, but she was good despite being far too young to be who she is revealed to be. Ciella is fine as the estranged son who returns to his father’s side, but is quick to return focus to his own life. After am impressive turn in Southbound, Hassie Harrison impresses again as Gerorge’s granddaughter, Shelby. The pretty blonde teen is the only one that seems to care about what’s going on and begins to investigate his live-in nurse when her behavior gets suspicious.

Despite some good acting and a core story that was interesting, the film disappoints due to a weak and over-the-top execution in script and direction. Subtlety would have worked much better, as well as, not being so obvious as to where this was all headed. The idea that George had skeleton’s in his closet that brought this on was interesting, but we’re tipped off about it far too early as we are about Michelle’s true nature. The idea of someone taunting a person suffering from dementia is horrifying, but it is looses it’s impact when the proceedings take it into camp territory and it just becomes another cliché psycho housekeeper/nanny flick. At least the actors did strong work and young Hassie Harrison shows she has heroine/final girl potential for the second time.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 cute, caring granddaughters.

demensia rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE SACRAMENT (2013)

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THE SACRAMENT (2013)

From the director of House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers comes this faux documentary chiller about a supposedly idyllic commune that echoes the real-life Jonestown incident of 1978. The story finds fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) traveling to a remote South American jungle with his friends Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Sam (AJ Bowen) when he gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) about her new life in a religious commune. As the three all work for a New York based multimedia company named Vice, they decide to make a documentary about the commune as part of their visit. And while, at first, the place seems like the peaceful haven it appears, that starts to change upon meeting it’s charismatic founder “Father” (a haunting Gene Jones), a man who might be more about playing God then serving him. Now, the longer they stay, the more they realize something is terribly wrong here and they may not live to present the world the story of Eden Parish.

I have been a big fan of director/writer Ti West since first seeing his low budget horror The Roost and he hasn’t disappointed me yet. The Sacrament is a chilling story of desperate people who fall under the control of a manipulative megalomaniac whose promise of freedom is only made so he can imprison and control them. West does a good job of first making us think that maybe Eden Parish isn’t such a bad place as our media crew interview some very happy and satisfied settlers. But, once Father appears and they interview him, West slowly starts to build tension and chills as there is a malicious underlying meaning to some of his answers. As the night goes on, the tension and chills mount as the 3 men realize that this is not a haven and they may not be allowed to leave. The film legitimately disturbs as our crew become increasing afraid and realize they may be trapped in a serpent’s nest and Ti West’s use of the documentary format helps get the viewer in close. If there is any Achilles’ Heel to this film, it is that it follows history a little too closely and anyone with knowledge of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, know what’s coming. Sure, it’s unsettling to watch unfold but, it doesn’t quite have the shock it needed to really punctuate the rest of the film and give it the powerful climax it needs. It is effective, don’t get me wrong but, as someone who was a teen in 1978 when the incident this is based on occurred… the familiarity did lessen the event’s impact. Overall the film is disturbing, especially when you add in Eric Robbins’ cinematography and Tyler Bates effectively chilling score but, as this event played out in real-life and is historically renown, it does take away the core shock of what transpires.

But in the director’s favor, West also gets good work out of his cast and this helps with the film’s effect. Swanberg, Audley and Bowen all present realistic characters that definitely give the vibe of metro filmmakers, who, especially in the case of Bowen’s Sam, give the impression of being equal parts idealistic and naive. They wade into their documentary full steam ahead realizing only too late they are in shark infested waters. Their fear appears quite genuine. Amy Seimetz is especially convincing as a woman who seems very happy on the outside but, is brainwashed to the point of committing horrible acts to preserve that ‘happiness’ as her leader commands. But, the real star of this show is a truly mesmerizing Gene Jones as Father. Jones presents a man who truly believes what he says and who uses the word of God and the promise of a peaceful life to control and manipulate those around him. He also is not above bending or breaking the very laws of God that he claims to uphold, if it suits his purpose and maintains his control over his subjects. He comes across as that friendly uncle who always greets you with a warm hug but, this time has a knife hidden behind his back. A really noteworthy performance.

In conclusion, I liked Ti West’s The Sacrament. It is chilling and disturbing and the found footage format puts us in the compound with our beleaguered film crew and adds to the tension. The only real flaw the film has, is that it follows a tragic historical event a bit too closely and anyone with knowledge of that incident knows where this is heading. The last act of the film is less shocking because of it but, is still unsettling to watch unfold under the skilled lens of Ti West and the very chilling performance of Gene Jones. Still very recommended.

3 jugs of Kool Aid.

sacrament rating

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