Directed & written by Chad Crawford Kinkle.
Starring Katie Groshong, Brandy Edmiston, Larry Fessenden, Eller Hall, Scott Hodges, Stephanie Kinkle
Katie (Katie Groshong) attempts to put her life back together after fleeing a backwoods cult. She begins a job at an adult treatment facility as a caregiver but finds that the manipulations and scars of the past are not easy to shake. Though she has good intentions, she becomes obsessed with one of the clients with Down’s Syndrome named Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle) and attempts to cast spells in order to save her when her health begins to diminish.
I saw DEMENTER a while back and just rewatched it this week and both times I came away from it with feelings of pity, sorrow, and sadness. This is not a comfortable movie. It’s a movie about best intentions and terrifying results. Having worked in the caregiving profession, I have seen the way people get enmeshed in the lives of the people they are treating and because of this familiarity, this is a film that really touched and disturbed me. Chad Crawford Kinkle delivered a striking fable of backwoods horror with JUG FACE a while back and there are strong elements of that film in DEMENTER. It’s a story that feels dirty and lived in. But DEMENTER is much more trippy, hallucinogenic, and psychedelic than the much more mainstream JUG FACE. This is a film that will envelop you and take you on a journey that is often horrifying, often beautiful. Kinkle’s camera floats around the scenes listlessly, as if you were partially awake as the subtle horrors are happening. Kinkle really has an aesthetic that reminded me of the work of one of his stars Larry Fessenden such as WENDIGO and HABIT. It’s a dreamy, scattershot way of telling a story by showing what is happening in the film’s real world, juxtaposed with the warped way reality is seen through the eyes of the protagonist. This film gets up and personal into Katie’s worldview and the way her perceptions differ from the world around her. Through flashbacks we learn of the horror’s that plague Katie and chip away at her sanity and the results are intimate and scary. Sean Spillane’s wonderful score also makes DEMENTER a unique experience. The score is subtle and simplistic with single chimes and drumbeats that signify the presence of madness and the cult in every scene and adds to Kinkle’s dreamlike camerawork to give the whole film a sense of a waking nightmare.
Katie Groshong delivers a restrained and no-frills performance as the protagonist Katie in DEMENTER. It is obvious that she cares for the people she is working with, but lacks the soundness in her own soul to take care of them properly. As always, Larry Fessenden is great as the cult leader who is often present in Katie’s day to day as a haunted voice in her ear. Fessenden exudes power in the few scenes he is in, but he remains ever present as the influencer of Katie, even through he is long gone. Stephanie Kinkle is wonderful here as the person Katie is most obsessed with at the facility. She is a true innocent and it is heartbreaking to see her get caught up in Katie’s madness.
DEMENTER is not going to be for everyone. It respectfully depicts those with mental illness and Down’s syndrome and sheds light on a world Hollywood ignores. I was put off by the death of a cat in the film, but it works to show how far gone Katie really is. This one isn’t an easy pill to swallow. But Kinkle delivers an intimate and hypnotic film that is sure to unnerve anyone who takes a chance on it.