Dementamania (2013)

Dementamania first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

It is Friday the 13th, 2013, and something is bugging well-to-do white-collar drone Edward Arkham (Sam Robertson). After being stung by a nightmarish wasp in the morning, he heads into work, where he is rattled by all his co-workers. Volatile CEO Christian (Kal Penn) sends Edward mixed signals about his status within the company, sleazy manager David Snodgrass (Geoff Bell) talks departmental audits, and rising newcomer Silas Thurston (Marc Perry) is openly making mischief with a view to pushing Edward out. Meanwhile the two men with whom Edward shares his office cubicle – sensible, nerdish Stephen (Anthony Cozens) and appetitive, priapic Pablo (Robert van Twillert) – confuse and annoy Edward with their conflicting attitudes and general interfering. Most unsettling of all though is the smartly dressed stranger Nicholas LeMarchand (Vincent Regan), who has a mysterious insight into all the younger man’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Attempts by ex-girlfriend Laura (Holly Weston) to reconnect are the final straw for our pressured hero, whose day will gradually unravel into a long, dark night.

Like the insect bite that gradually spreads into an ugly, irritant rash all over Edward’s skin, there is a big problem at the core of Dementamania that will niggle at the viewer right from the film’s start, and cannot simply be scratched away. Formally, this is a twist-based film whose duplicitous, reality-distorting narrative is unpacked and decoded by an expositional sequence reserved till the film’s very end – except that, from the start, any viewer with a half-decent knowledge of countless similar films, or who has even the most rudimentary ability to read film narrative, or who gets the allusive hint in the protagonist’s surname, or who is just familiar with the film’s title, will know that Edward is not in his right mind, that not everything we are seeing is actually happening, and that the hallucinatory imagery is a reflection of Edward’s fragmenting grip on reality. All this serves fatally to defuse the big reveal in the climax – a reveal that, at least in its general outline, frankly anyone will have guessed within the first ten minutes of running time. The result is a film propelled by a pointless structure towards a twist that comes with practically zero surprise.

Yet even if Dementamania has an entirely predictable trajectory, it should not be dismissed out of hand. Chief amongst its peculiar pleasures is its heady aesthetic, as director Kit Ryan (Botched) takes a broad surrealist cue (as well as several specific motifs) from the paintings hanging on Edward’s apartment wall to defamiliarise white-collar London as a paranoid hell. A full armature of visual tics and trickery is dizzyingly deployed to capture Edward’s distorted point of view, which creates a similarly swooning sense of madness in the viewer. As a story, Dementamania may not amount to much, and certainly lacks originality – but as a showcase for Ryan’s mastery of the medium in creating dreamlike images, this film is quite the calling card.

strap: Kit Ryan’s office psychodrama makes up for its predictable narrative trajectory with a barrage of hallucinatory images

Anton Bitel