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Review: DEMENTER (2019) – Nashville Film Festival

In 2013 Chad Crawford Kinkle made his debut with Jug Face, a well-received film about a backwoods cult that sacrifices its members to a creature living in a pit. Six years later he’s back he’s later with Dementer. While it isn’t directly about cults, they play a part once again. It’s also nothing like what I was expecting.

Dementer begins with an unsettling mix of shots that seem to be connected, though we’re not sure how. These are then further intercut with the film’s opening credits, presented as childish crayon drawings. All set to an atonal score. It had me off balance before the film’s actual story began.

That story concerns Katie (Katie Groshong, In Memory Of, In The Dark) a woman who fled from a cult and is trying to adjust to the outside world. She gets a job working at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. Among them is Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle), who has Down’s Syndrome. The two quickly bond.

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But Stephanie soon becomes ill. Katie’s past, however, has left her with some odd ideas about situations like this, though. And some unconventional ways of trying to deal with them. This eventually brings her into conflict with her superiors and leads to a shattering conclusion.

As you may have read, or guessed, Stephanie is Chad’s sister and actually suffers from Down’s Syndrome. He says he wrote Dementer around her, to give a realistic representation of the disorder while still making an effective horror film. And while the film does have moments of horror, it’s equally a look at two women suffering from major issues.

Much of the horror in Dementer is of a psychological nature. Her past has left Katie mentally scarred, and she frequently suffers flashbacks and/or hallucinations. Many of these are disturbing, and it’s often hard to tell one from the other. Or to tell if something is actually happening.

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Dementer will be a divisive film, in part because of that. I can almost hear the accusations of pretentious crap already. And I can understand that. The film can be frustratingly vague and confusing at times. I’m still not entirely sure just what Larry (Larry Fessenden, Depraved, In A Valley Of Violence) had to do with everything. The film can feel like almost like a string of random images at times.

Despite the publicity centered on Stephanie, she’s almost an afterthought in the film. Dementer is Katie’s story, and the promos leading up to its premiere should have focused on that. That and Groshong’s excellent performance in a difficult role. Instead, I felt mislead by what feels like a rather exploitive cash in on Stephanie’s condition.

I’ve deliberately been vague about the film’s plot points, this is one you’ll want to see not knowing much about what’s coming. Keep your mind open, and sharp, and Dementer may well surprise you.

Dementer makes its world premiere at The Nashville Film Festival on October 10th and should be playing other festivals after that.

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