Dementer

A jangling, nightmare-like stylistic and thematic journey through memory and the present.

Synopsis: After fleeing a backwoods cult, a woman tries to turn her life around by taking a job in a home for special needs adults, only to discover that she must face her dark past to save a down syndrome girl.

Director and writer Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut feature Jug Face explored the nature of life within a confined community and the way that rituals dictate people’s behaviours. Continuing that interest in cult experience, Dementer utilises very different methods for a take on memory, power and vulnerability.

Katie Groshong plays Katie, a woman fleeing her past. As she takes on caring responsibilities for special needs adults, that past begins to intrude upon the present. Developing a fixation on Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle), one of the women in her care, Katie quickly spirals into a series of visions, recalling her previous trauma. Groshong’s performance is forced to lurch between her quiet, caring exterior with a more fractured internal experience, which she manages incredibly well.

Despite the otherworldly feel that the film so often leans into, it is the deeply personal touch that provides the unique discomfort here, producing jarring slips between the naturalistic, organic camera work of the normal to the sinister imagery the film conjures. The film works with what it has for the most part, finding the calm, structured moments of Katie’s new life in almost documentary format (something no doubt assisted by the inclusion of non-actors to make up the bulk of the cast). That Katie is in a capacity as a carer makes her instability all the more uncomfortable.

Despite this, there are times where those limitations are felt more keenly, particularly when attempting to uncover parts of the past involving more people, for which the film doesn’t provide the resources. There is a lack of scale in some sections which lowers the stakes against the potency of Katie’s interactions with others. The film is at its best when smaller, more uncomfortably invading the space than trying to imagine a wider world. The turning of a toy into a sinister communicative tool is an effective one, but there is a tendency to elongate sequences which if you aren’t on board with that sense of dread, will feel overlong and over indulgent.

Chimes, rhythmic drumming and plucking guitars all underscore Katie’s troubling visions, often accompanied by the voice of her previous leader (Larry Fessenden). The film sets him as an omnipresent figure, steadfastly counting her into disaster and guiding her gradually intensifying behaviour. If you are looking for someone to provide this, you can really do no better than Fessenden, who manages to provide a sinister edge for the entire run time, despite only directly featuring a handful of times. The success of the film is in probing the nature of memory and indeed, trauma. We hear him intone about how special she is as she investigates old wounds, in a powerful display of brainwashing and how she connects abuse with a counteractive feeling of safety. Katie stresses the importance of writing things down so she doesn’t forget them, routinely turning to a journal as a guiding force.

The images the film manages to articulate are incredibly striking and unsettling, including an extended sequence that cat lovers are likely going to want to avoid. As stated, the film is best when playing small, denying the full scale and drawing out the discomfort from tactile elements. Blood saturates floors, fills up sinks and otherwise oozes in a way that makes it feel all-encompassing. As the film progresses, the clashing everyday and otherworldly start to merge, lending everything a rather more sinister tone, heading to a nightmare-like space.

Although this arguably suits a shorter film format better than the feature length it aims for, this jangling experience does showcase the kind of film that Arrow deservedly champions for its invention and vision.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Dementer is released on the alternative streaming service ARROW, 1st October. Dementer + Jug Face Limited Edition Blu-ray is released by Arrow Video on October 4th.

Author: ScaredSheepless

Film and television fan, with a particular love for horror.

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