A boat approaches toward a huge slab stone of an island, the rock solid formations commanding a visual dread of the unknown. The boat docks, and we see the familiar face of Nora Aunor disembarking from the vessel. At the onset of DEMENTIA, Perci Intalan readily lays the groundwork for a thriller that benefits greatly from its picturesque location.
Shot in Batanes, a dreamy place rarely seen on film except for KADIN (THE GOAT) and BATANES, both films by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr., DEMENTIA maximizes the haunting beauty of its location and underneath the majesty of every shot of the cliff overlooking the sea, of waves crashing, of secluded forest trails, of every lagoon, of the ancestral home and even the cemetery is a knowing fear, or at least a shiver of restlessness. Cinematographer Mackie Galvez (SANA DATI) captures the visual tone that complements the story's demands, and levels with the acting caliber of Nora Aunor.
La Aunor plays Mara Fabre, a woman whose mental faculties are slowly disintegrating. Her niece, Eleina (Bing Loyzaga) brings her back to the house she grew up in, hoping that Mara's mental condition will improve. Mara only recognizes Eleina, much to the dismay of Eleina's husband Rommel (Yul Servo) and daughter Rachel (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), both of whom are stranded on the island to do Eleina's bidding.
As soon as Mara settles into their ancestral home, weird events begin to manifest. She sees a young girl who seemingly wants to play. A poltergeist may be in the room with her. A woman dressed in matrimonial white appears everywhere. Clearly this is not the vacation everybody hoped for.
The Superstar shines best in her moments of silence, and silence runs aplenty in dementia. Mara can be seen mostly wandering around the surroundings, studying every wall, every detail of their house. Her curiosity sparks our curiosity. And such controlled performance, as when Mara placidly wanders her gaze in her immediate surrounding, as if trying to search for something that isn't there can only come from La Aunor. The woman has been a known expert at underacting, and this mood piece could not have come at a better time for her, after the love-it/hate-it critical reception to the outrageous HUSTISYA by Joel Lamangan. Mara, when she is at loss for words, is cinematic beauty.
But what secret does the house, or the island hold for Mara? Clearly, Mara is the key to solve the riddle that is DEMENTIA, and I liked the film more because the hero of the film is an unreliable one. Her memory fails her. And we don't know when the heck she is going to start getting her act together.
Jasmine Curtis-Smith, who plays Rachel, one of the crucial players in the plot does her best to play the spoiled American-raised young lady who quickly becomes one of the defenders of her Aunt Mara from her tormentors. A friend of mine had wanted a more seasoned young actress to replace Curtis-Smith, given that most of her scenes are with Nora Aunor. I say, give the girl a chance, whom we last saw in another notable performance in Hannah Espia's TRANSIT, but yes, it does make you think of other actresses for Rachel's role.
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.