Dementer isn’t a film for everyone. It opens with jarring shots of a trembling, naked woman standing before a bonfire, while a dog barks and the woman whimpers. Cut to a scene of a woman (the same woman, maybe) running in a field, while a car with an unknown driver pursues her. The remaining 90 minutes contain even more bizarre, horrific sequences.
These high-art horror sequences are balanced with realism. The film is grounded by Katie Groshong’s performance as Katie, a woman trying in earnest to overcome trauma and pull her life together after escaping a cult. Directed, written, and edited by Chad Crawford Kinkle (Jug Face), Dementer blurs the line between realism and abstraction. Because of this, it’s best to go into the film without expectations.
Katie takes a job working at a care center for those with special needs. Kinkle even cast his sister, Stephanie, who has Downs Syndrome, as one of the film’s stars. From there, there’s a juxtaposition of two remarkably different worlds. Though Katie longs to move on, she can’t escape her dark past. Present day scenes have the look and feel of a documentary within the care center, while the flashbacks drip with unease and terror. The film blurs realism with abstraction, and Kinkle often pulls it off.
Despite her dark past, Katie generally shows love for those in her care. This dedication to her job serves as an anchor and counters several of the trippy flashbacks and hellish visions. Though Katie attempts to do good with her life, she can’t shake the feeling that “the devils” seek Stephanie. Signs, so to speak, are everywhere. Are they real or imagined? Who knows!
Most of the visions are nightmarish figments. Even the sinister male voice Katie frequently hears, including through a toy radio, makes little sense. The voice belongs to the cult leader, I assume, played by Larry Fessenden. Though he’s never fully shown or given much story, he looms large, a presence that Katie can’t shake. The frequent sense of dread is amplified by Sean Spillane’s chilling score, which creates hair-raising tension that shatters any illusion that everything is at it seems. There is an increasing sense of doom as the film progresses.
Katie’s past and whatever she endured is shown through visions, including strange symbols and disturbing scenes in the woods. It’s difficult to make sense of what it all means, but perhaps that’s not the point. Kinkle forgoes traditional story logic in favor of these fragmented sequences. They won’t work for everyone, but perhaps that’s how memory and trauma truly operate, in pieces and fragments.
Katie tries to conjure spells to ward off bad spirits and the pursuant cult. She clings to a book with strange markings within its pages. Once scene involving a cat and a sacrifice will be difficult for most viewers to watch. I personally had to look away, and I’m not easily distributed.
The film’s not without a little levity, however. When Katie’s co-worker finds her book and thumbs through its pages, she tells others how demented the new hire is. This scene is a welcome reprieve from the dream-like visions. Again, there’s a constant balance between realism and high experimentation.
Overall, Dementer is a unique viewing experience, a film that should be appreciated for what it is, namely arthouse horror. Don’t try to make sense of the story or what happened in Katie’s past. Enjoy the ride and Kinkle’s experiment.
Dementer will be available on digital platforms beginning March 2.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.