'The Demented' gets a "C-" for effort but an "F" for failing miserably in its execution, so let's meet in the middle and call it a day. I'll also give myself an "A" for the effort of forgetting I ever saw or heard of this micro-budgeted little number. To their credit, the filmmakers take a crack at generating some scares with several frightfully nightmarish scenarios, but rely heavily on standard horror tropes in achieving those moments, which ruin much of their impact. Ignoring the below average acting from the entire cast, the movie also fails at giving audiences characters worth caring about — there's really no reason for wanting any of them to survive. And finally, the story is structured like a first-person shooter that borrows from other, far superior sources, such as Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later.'
Making his writing and directorial debut, Christopher Roosevelt clearly wants his movie to be somewhat original as a group of six college friends come together for a weekend getaway. On the surface, they're not your standard pieces of scary-movie fodder, meaning they're not alcohol-sponging, sex-crazed party animals without a future. Except for one two-timing, irritating trust-fund baby (Michael Welch), the kids appear to be responsible, career-driven individuals. It just happens that on the weekend they take a break from school and studying, which admittedly involves alcohol consumption and promiscuity, a terrorist attack unleashes a long-range missile carrying a biochemical warhead towards the Gulf coast. It's never explained why the Gulf coast would be attacked, but whatever.
Where things suddenly go sour — no, the missile exploding near the kids' weekend party house is not it — is Roosevelt failing to take advantage of these relatively (supposedly?) intelligent people. Instead, he cheapens them into typical teenage histrionics with melodramatic nonsense about Naomi (Brittney Alger) sleeping with Sharley's (Sarah Butler of the 'I Spit on Your Grave' remake) boyfriend (Welch), about Naomi hiding the affair from her own boyfriend Brice (Ashlee Brian), and about Taylor (Kayla Ewell) second-guessing her relationship with David (Richard Kohnke) because he's smothering and too perfect. How exactly any of this serves the plot is ultimately the real mystery. And when they figure out their dire situation, they all pretty much turn into bumbling idiots where the boys become the big, strong hero types and the girls are relegated to whimpering hysterics in need of a man to rescue them.
Much of the plot thereafter feels inspired by videogames, anything from 'Silent Hill' to most recently 'The Last of Us,' forcing characters to navigate through a few obstacle courses in their efforts to escape the epidemic caused by the missile. At one point, the group even stops at a pharmacy to essentially collect weapons, supplies and health packs. Once the group gathers their wits and decides to roam the town, arbitrary rules suddenly come into play and are used as convenient plot devices that work only when Roosevelt wants them to. Apparently, the slobbering, fast-running zombies only react to the sound of noise, as if awakened from some strange slumber. Funny thing is our survivors are noisy often but attacked randomly, and sneaking by a horde of frozen infected is only fitting when Roosevelt wants to build suspense.
To be fair, 'The Demented' was made on a very small budget and probably with limited time, and the production team puts on a decent show considering those restrictions. However, the end result is still a shoddy mess that is every bit of what we'd expect from a direct-to-video release. There's a great deal of heart behind its efforts, but bad directing, bad editing, bad acting and a weak script work against those labors by continually reminding viewers of its cheap production origins at every turn. The characters are trite, predictable fodder trapped in a plot with a red-herring conclusion that doesn't jive well at all with everything that precedes it. Similar to his attempt at penning what he thought to be an original story idea, Roosevelt tries to be clever with a twist ending, but only succeeds at frustrating and ultimately exasperating this horror fan.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'The Demented' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region A locked, BD25 disc and the DVD-5 copy on opposing panel are housed inside a blue, eco-cutout case. After a skippable trailer for 'The Amazing Adventures of the Living Corpse,' viewers are taken to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
Shot on a Red Epic camera system, 'Demented' arrives on Blu-ray with several positives and a few too many negatives that can't be overlooked. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is highly detailed for the most part, with nicely defined lines around foliage, random household items, and on the surrounding architecture. Some rather strange bokeh photography creates soft edges around the 1.78:1 image frame, but also adds a great deal of three-dimensional depth.
Sadly, the freshly-minted transfer looks much too sterile and artificial while showing some noticeable banding in the shadows. Colors are largely accurate and clean with primaries looking particularly bold, yet the overall palette appears dull and humdrum with a few scenes losing a good deal of their luster. Contrast is generally well-balanced, but there are moments where the video falls flat and unexpectedly goes monochromatic while highlights suddenly bloom. Black levels are one of the few positives with excellent shadow details, but one or two sequences fall a tad short of perfection. In the end, the high-def presentation fails to make much of an impression or leave a lasting memory.
As if the video wasn't enough of a letdown, the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is actually a bit more disappointing. Much of the action is focused in the front soundstage, which oddly wavers between a good, wide image and a very narrow, limited design.
Granted, much of this happens during quieter, more dialogue-driven moments, but the sudden lack of activity in the rest of the system is quite apparent. Added to that, the vocals are not in perfect sync with the video, feeling largely distant and hollow, which is often distracting. There is some attempt at expanding the soundfield with a few decently well-placed effects in the rears, but they largely come off as artificial and forced. The cheap musical score does better at bleeding into the surrounds, yet it fails to engage the listener or build the suspense.
As for the rest of the lossless mix, dynamic range is flat and even, exhibiting little if any distinction between the frequencies, further adding to the track's overall artificiality. There is some extension in the low bass, but it's not much, let alone worth mentioning. Ultimately, the high-rez track puts the effort but fails at every turn to make an impression.
This is a bare-bones release.
'The Demented' starts with the potential for something new and possibly entertaining, but quickly squanders it in favor of the typical and familiar, with trite, generic characters doing stupid things. Making his writing and directing debut, Christopher Roosevelt demonstrates a good deal of heart and passion, but this production isn't the best example of horror entertainment. The Blu-ray arrives with a decent audio and video presentation, and the bonus section is non-existent. Ultimately, this bare-bones release can be skipped.