Dementia Part II
Suzanne wasn't always this confused. She wasn't always dead either - When an ex-con takes a job as a handyman for an unstable elderly woman to avoid a parole violation, it becomes a choice he may regret.
This next film “had me at hello”. When you start up your movie with a credit sequence straight out of the original Poltergeist – you’re gonna hook someone like me.
Not only is it a lovely tribute (with the same version of The Star-Spangled Banner and the same title font prior to a static-y television screen), it also perfectly establishes the film’s goofy tone.
I told co-writer/co-director Matt Mercer – following the Utah premiere of his film Dementia Part II at FilmQuest 2018 in Provo – that for a bloody horror/comedy (i.e. goofy and off-the-wall), that his film sure was sad.
He nodded and agreed.
The thing is – it’s a rare feat that something of a multi-tonal film actually works.
What’s even more impressive, is that this particular piece was written, shot and edited in about five weeks (as a challenge to the filmmakers from a film festival director). Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Dementia Part II follows recent parolee Wendell (Mercer) as he takes on odd jobs as a handyman. When he’s called upon to fix some plumbing issues at the home of Suzanne (The Lords of Salem’s Suzanne Voss), an aging and clearly mentally unstable woman (thus the condition mentioned in the film’s title), he will spend a memorable, bizarre and terrifying day stuck in this woman’s house.
There are plenty of good bits going on in the film, but what makes it extra special are the two lead performances.
Suzanne Voss. What can I say? Following the film’s screening, I took a moment to approach her and simply gush over her insanely impressive performance. What’s even more amazing about her work, is that she received the script – ONE DAY prior to the start of principal photography.
It’s a fearless performance – requiring Voss to hit practically every emotion imaginable – showing the highs and lows of this disease which has taken her mind. As Suzanne reminisces about her late husband, you’ll find your heart breaking. She takes Wendell in her arms and dances to her and her dead husband’s favorite tune. She suggestively tries to seduce Wendell. She threatens him. She’s sweet. She’s sad. She’s funny. And she’s terrifying.
I think the term “tour-de-force” is probably thrown around too much, when referencing great film performances. But when its usage is right – it’s right. And it’s all but necessary in this case.
One of my favorite moments from Voss (which we discovered was a fantastic bit of improv) finds a blood-caked Suzanne coming to her senses following a particularly violent episode – and then walking by two stunned onlookers with a meek, polite and embarrassed, “Excuse me.”
As Wendell, Mercer brings a sharp-as-nails sense of comic timing. It’s never a dull moment to watch Mercer’s expressions as Suzanne includes him in her whirlwind of emotions and mood swings. He is the straight man to her comic, and he makes it look effortless (being the straight man is harder than it might seem). What’s equally impressive, is to see Wendell offer up those little glimpses of sympathy for Suzanne. Despite Wendell’s questionable past (we never know for sure what was his crime), Mercer allows us to see that his character has a heart.
Visually, the film is a treat. Presented in black-and-white (with some interesting and notable color exceptions), it works toward transporting the audience to the films of Roger Corman (the intended response, per Mercer). There’s an awesome, trippy sequence at the film’s center – with crazy editing – which sets itself apart from the rest of the film… in a good way.
As hinted at above, I was really taken with the film’s not-so-happy undertones. I mean, we all know that dementia is a harrowing and terrifying disease. But to see it so beautifully (read: painfully) captured on-screen – makes for something of an unpleasant experience. And for a film basically made on the fly – and with such a low budget ‘60s horror vibe – it’s surprising how much the inherent sadness will impact you as the film illustrates its more serious ideas. It’s wholly unexpected – arresting and unexpected.
And with that very serious disease devastation – the film also has plenty of laugh-out-loud wackiness (including a sequence in Suzanne’s bedroom, following a bout of sickness). This moment had the entire FilmQuest audience screeching in disgust, laughing and practically retching at what was being shown on-screen. Why my friend sitting next to me, had to cover her eyes during this display. It’s a perfect moment to encapsulate the film’s weird (and frankly sick) sense of humor. In other words – I don’t think this film will be for everyone.
The special effects make-up (from some of my fave effects wizards, Josh and Sierra Russell) are a hoot. Lots of blood, lots of entrails and plenty of flesh-munching.
In addition to the Poltergeist call-out, there are also homages to Psycho, Friday the 13th Part II and even some slapstick and gory nods to Dead Alive.
Finally, there is actually a Dementia Part I. I’ve not experienced it, but from all accounts, it’s a bit more of a “serious” film than what is shown here – and for the most part, unrelated. So it’s not a prerequisite to screen prior to taking in Dementia Part II (which you most certainly should do).
The film is nominated for several awards at this year’s FilmQuest. Among the goodies: Best Feature Screenplay – Matt Mercer and Mike Testin, Best Actor in a Feature – Matt Mercer, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature – Suzanne Voss and Best Makeup in a Feature.
For my money (thus far in the fest – there are still plenty of films left to screen), Voss should have the award in the bag. Although I’m scratching my head as to why her performance was listed in the supporting, rather than lead acting category.
With an off-the-wall aesthetic and the matching weirdo vibe, two exceptionally strong lead performances and the successful mix of competing tones – Dementia Part II is a winner.
The film is still doing quite well on the festival circuit, thus no wider release information is yet available.