Film Review: DEMENTIA
By Fred Hawson
“Dementia does not have the garish and noisy shock effects that we see in most mainstream Filipino horror films. Instead, its unnerving quietness which effectively communicates a sense of danger, on top of the compelling lead performance of Ms. Nora Aunor, gives this film high marks of cinematic excellence.”
Mara Fabre (Nora Aunor) has been diagnosed with early stage dementia. She was brought back to her remote hometown in Batanes by her cousin Elaine (Bing Loyzaga) to help her recover her memories. Mara keeps getting visions of a playful little girl or a masked bride, whom she called Olivia. As the Olivia's ghostly games become more sinister, will Mara and Elaine's family be able to escape with their sanity or their lives?
The script was written by Renei Dimla from a story by Jun Lana. The back story behind the ghostly apparitions was well-told, albeit using a convenient device to tell the whole tale. I liked the subtlety the script used to deal with Mara's immediate past before dementia, with a short but telling scene with Elaine's husband Rommel (Yul Servo) and the thought-provoking epilogue scene. Yet at the same time I was wished for more details. I liked those unique props like the stone with a hole, the jigsaw puzzle, and the Ivatan grass raincoat.
Despite its good points, "Dementia" also utilized many familiar Pinoy horror film staples -- the classic white lady, the empty rooms lit by candles, scratching on the floor, the cemetery scene, the loud swelling instrumental and even choral music to emphasize a scary moment. It also had a scene with the over-used Asian ghostly image of a female in white crawling towards the victim at one point, which I wished it won't but did.
As always though, Nora Aunor can elevate any script to a higher level. She was mostly quiet here because of her mental disability, but her screen presence was really riveting despite her limited lines. As we all know, her eyes and her face speak eloquently by themselves.
Of the supporting cast, Chynna Ortaleza was surreally affecting as the disturbed Olivia, especially in those scenes before she was a ghost. Jasmin Curtis-Smith stands out as Rachel, Elaine's spoiled American-raised daughter, who also later shared Mara's ghostly visions. Althea Vega was effectively cast as a young Nora Aunor. The similarity of their vocal quality was uncanny.
Percival Intalan, in his directorial debut, made full advantage of the mysteriousness of his Batanes setting to tell the story in "Dementia". The old stone houses, the regular interruption of electricity service by 9 pm, the isolation from neighbors, the windswept violent coastline and precarious cliffs -- all were perfect to build up the tension and suspense necessary for a film like this succeed.
"Dementia" does not have the garish and noisy shock effects that we see in most mainstream Filipino horror films. Instead, its unnerving quietness which effectively communicates a sense of danger, on top of the compelling lead performance of Ms. Nora Aunor, gives this film high marks of cinematic excellence.
Lest we forget, the other highlight of the film aside from La Aunor is Chynna Ortaleza, who plays the mysterious ghost that causes malevolence among the household. Ortaleza redefines crazy. We need to see more of her in challenging roles, which reminds me of the sad fact that she had to endure her helpline volunteer character in #Y that resulted into caricature. And that’s not entirely her fault.
Some minor setbacks hinder the film from being a full-pledge chiller, such as the vague reference to Mara’s resentment towards Rommel, or the shaman character (Lui Manansala) who readily gives up on exorcism. Yes there is an exorcism. Sort of.
But when I think of how well the shots are mounted, like when Mara bides her time building her puzzle (yes, an actual jigsaw puzzle), I maybe able to forgo the lapses in the story. Plus, the flashback sequence is quite heartbreaking, and unexpected.
For a first time filmmaker, Perci Intalan proves to be a capable one. There is room for improvement but that fact makes the experience more exciting, more rewarding. Thank the Heavens that after a long time, we can finally watch a decent local horror film that does not rob us of our hard-earned money, or our self-respect.