By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Matt Mercer, Suzanne Voss and Najarra Townsend
Written and directed by Mike Testin and Matt Mercer
Dark Star Pictures/Bloody Disgusting
While one of the horror year’s biggest PART IIs is currently invading theaters nationwide, one of the smallest arrives on VOD, digital HD and DVD today. DEMENTIA PART II has received quite a bit of notice for being conceived, scripted, shot and premiere-screened in only a month (go here for the story on how that was accomplished), yet it’s notable for more than the circumstances behind its production.
Unconnected except by name to Mike Testin’s 2015 psychological creeper DEMENTIA, the sequel written, directed, produced and edited by Testin and star Matt Mercer is a combination of twisted comedy and ick-fest anchored by the performance of the demented one. That would be Suzanne Voss as Suzanne Goldblum, who at first appears to be a sweet elderly woman welcoming handyman Wendell (Mercer) into her home. An ex-con trying to get his life back in order, Wendell thinks he’s just in for a day of odd jobs, but they become odder than he ever could have anticipated as his host’s initially kind and generous manner gives way to nasty and demanding behavior, and her pleasant home becomes a house of horrors.
Suzanne is several different kinds of crazy, and Voss really goes for broke, fully coloring in all the sides of her antagonist’s madness and turning on a dime from funny to frightening. Mercer, as a guy trying to do the right thing over the course of an increasingly trying and unpleasant day, is a solid foil for her well-pitched insanity. The ever-shifting dynamic between the two keeps the film humming over its brief (67 minutes) running time, with a couple of additional characters turning up at the house to throw new curveballs: Suzanne’s daughter Sheila (THE STYLIST’s Najarra Townsend) and Wendell’s officious parole officer Reggie (genre regular Graham Skipper). Sheila’s presence in particular occasions a few of the surprises sprinkled throughout DEMENTIA PART II, and for being written so quickly, Testin and Mercer’s script is sound and well-structured, with progression that makes sense and effective setups and payoffs.
Not to mention gross-outs; Wendell makes discoveries and gets into situations that score high on the “Ewwwwwww” scale, albeit not as much as they might have since DEMENTIA PART II has been shot in black and white. Though the approach was born of expedience (saving time that would have been spent on color correction), the monochromatic look adds a weird TWILIGHT ZONE-esque mood to the proceedings, and allow Testin and Mercer to get homagistic in places: There are touches of noir here, a stylistic shout-out to SCHINDLER’S LIST there. There are, in fact, little nods to past fright features throughout DEMENTIA PART II, right from the opening credits, which reference both POLTERGEIST and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2.
Yet the filmmakers, confronted with the severely abbreviated production time, didn’t take the easy way out of rooting their movie in callbacks to their predecessors. DEMENTIA PART II has a morbidly amusing personality all its own, and Voss’ committed turn as someone who definitely should be committed makes it a keeper.