‘Dementer’ Review: Dir. Chad Crawford [A Scare a Day]

After a traumatic experience with a cult, Katie (Katie Groshong) is trying to turn her life around. The first step on her road to recovery sees her taking a job in a home for special needs adults. As she starts to settle into her new routine, and tries to put memories of her past behind her, it becomes clear that the cult might have had more truth to it than she thought. She soon realises that one of her charges, Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle), is being afflicted by the very things the cult taught her to ward against, leading Katie to confront her disturbing past in order to save Stephanie.

Dementer unfolds within two different narratives. The bulk of the film follows Katie in the present as she learns the ropes at her new job, connecting with the developmentally disabled adults she looks after. We follow her through her job interview and first few days in the role, as well as getting a glimpse into her current personal life, which includes sleeping in her car and washing at the local store. At the same time that all this is unfolding, we get flashbacks to her life in the cult. Most of these scenes focus on the teachings of the leader (played by Larry Fessenden), explaining the rules to her. These moments aren’t lingered upon too heavily, making them mere glimpses and snapshots, keeping the viewer intrigued about the relevance of them. Slowly the pieces begin to fall into place and the film takes on a rather sinister slant.

Although this is a horror film that is set almost entirely in the day, director Chad Crawford Kinkle still manages to keep the viewer on-edge. He achieves this by juxtaposing two very different visual styles together. Katie’s day-to-day life is shot in an almost documentary style. Were you to switch on to Dementer during Katie’s initial introduction to the residents at the care home, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a documentary. These moments feel incredibly real and potentially were, the exchanges simply being snippets of regular conversation. This normalcy is broken up with several sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in an arthouse experimental film. There are flashes of woodlands at night, fires, and demonic symbols. Their pairing causes the viewer to be jarred out of reality, something which Kinkle expands upon further as he brings a vast amount of blood into the sterile hospital-like environment of the home.

Linking these two narratives and styles is a fantastic score that is truly unsettling. It begins with screaming strings that heighten the occult scenes before moving into a more repetitive beating of drums and shaking of bells or tambourines. To begin with, this sound is kept to the straight supernatural moments, but it slowly begins to seep into the ‘regular’ parts of the film. This serves as an auditory reminder to the audience that all is not well. By the climax it is permeating every frame, transporting you from the real world to this eerie otherworld. Realism mixed with other unreal elements has echoes of The Witch. Obviously the settings and styles are very different, but in many ways were the world of Thomasin and Black Phillip real, the events of Dementer could in a way have descended from that story.

The cast, with the exception of Larry Fessenden, are fairly new to the world of acting, but all do commendable jobs. Groshong does a great job holding the story together as lead Katie, and the rest of the ensemble prove that people with actual developmental issues – rather than someone pretending to have them – can easily handle the world of filmmaking. The part of Stephanie is played by Kinkle’s real-life sister Stephanie Kinkle, whom has Down Syndrome,  and she does a beautiful job as the target of dark forces.

You’ve likely not seen a film like Dementer for years, if at all. Kinkle perfectly balances the two parts to his story, producing a compelling feature that could be viewed as a modern day descendent to the story posed in The Witch.

Dementer is available to view on Arrow Player and to own on Blu-ray now.

This review first appeared on THN.