★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A woman who escaped from a backwoods cult finds that what she learned there might endanger a developmentally disabled charge of hers in the eerie, unsettling Dementer.
Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle
Dementer is part of Chattanooga Film Festival’s 2020 virtual edition, which runs May 22–25, and the film can be viewed anytime during those dates. For more information, visit chattfilmfest.org. Please note that the festival is open to residents of the United States only. Fest badges can be purchased at www.chattfilmfest.org/badges.
Writer Chad Crawford Kinkle made his feature film debut in 2013 with Jug Face, a fear-fare offering about a backwoods cult. In his sophomore outing Dementer, he returns to a mysterious rural cult once again, but in a far different approach than previous.
The film starts off with an unsettling tone pre-credits and never lets up. Eerie images flash across the screen to atonal musical accompaniment before opening credits in a childlike writing style give way to the introduction of Katie (Katie Groshong of Jug Face in an intense, finely nuanced performance), a woman interviewing for a job at a group home for developmentally disable adults.
Katie suffers from nightmarish flashbacks that she tries to pass off to coworkers as sudden headaches. She is actually being haunted by memories of her time in a cult headed up by a man named Larry (legendary indie horror director and actor Larry Fessenden) which left her scarred both mentally and physically. As Katie grows closer to her charge Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle, the director’s sister, who has Down’s Syndrome), she begins to think that evil forces are after Stephanie, and her own trauma rises ever stronger as she begins to make a series of decisions that threaten to endanger both of the women.
Kinkle has real-life developmentally disabled people as characters, showing them in a wonderfully positive light as they go about their days and nights playing, eating, chatting, and following their normal routines. Katie’s coworkers seem to be women who actually perform the jobs they have in the film, giving the interaction between the staff members and their charges a natural feel.
When the film goes inside Katie’s troubled, memory-filled mind and follows a nail-biting choice that she makes in the third act, it’s a whole different world, one filled with quick flashes of bizarre, powerful, highly disquieting images further enhanced by the daunting score from Sean Spillane (Jug Face, The Woman, Tales of Halloween). Cinematographer Jeff Wedding (director of Tennessee Gothic) combines a documentary style approach to the group home scenes with a discomfiting dreamlike approach — bad dreams, to clarify — to the more chilling sequences, the latter style of which is further augmented by Chad Crawford Kinkle’s deft editing. Kinkle directs with an assured hand, ratcheting up the mystery behind what drives Katie to try and protect Stephanie, and from what, building suspense and keeping viewers off balance from the film’s opening frames.