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Confessions of a Cinephile – DEMENTER (2019) – Review

Column by David Garrett

  • Film: Dementer
  • Year: 2019
  • Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle
  • Writer: Chad Crawford Kinkle
  • Starring: Brandy Edmiston, Larry Fessenden and Katie Groshong

Review:

This was a movie that I got turned on to when I was asked if I wanted to check out the screener for review. When I realized that the director was the same guy, Chad Craword Kinkle, who did Jug Face, an underrated film in my opinion, I jumped on the chance to see this. The synopsis here is 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.

We get a great cold open here. There is a bonfire with someone standing before it nude. We then get to see this person running through a field with a truck following her. The soundtrack with it is quite eerie with a bell chiming that goes with it. The opening credits are also done with what appears to be crayons and looks child like to help with this vibe as well.

It then takes us to Katie (Katie Groshong) being interviewed for a job working with people that intellectually disabled. She gets the job and goes on to meet her co-worker of Brandy (Brandy Edmiston) along with many of the participants. One in particular is a woman with Down syndrome named Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle).

As Katie is leaving from her interview, she is asked where she is living. She states she found a place in the country, but in reality we see that she is living in her car. From the interview, she goes to a gas station to wash herself in the bathroom. It is during this we see that she has a large and strange scar on her back that looks to be a burn from being branded.

Intercutting in showing Katie as she settles into her new position, we learn that she was part of a cult. The leader was Larry (Larry Fessenden). She was lured in by some younger people and Katie still has a book of things she learned through being a part of it. She is trying though to live a normal life. She starts to believe though she hasn’t escaped them. Stephanie seems to be getting sick and Katie thinks it is the devils from the cult coming for her. She takes steps to help her, but Katie is drawing the attention of Brandy who thinks there could be something up with her new co-worker.

That is where I want to leave my recap as this movie doesn’t have the deepest story to it. With that being said, this is really more of a character study of Katie. We don’t necessarily get this, but from my knowledge of people who end up getting into cults, I think she was struggling and looking for direction in her life. These people tend to be more susceptible to a cult as they need the structure. Now that she has left, she is still struggling with the programming that went on there.

I will commend Katie for wanting to help out with this population of people. The problem though is that she isn’t in the right place. She really needs therapy of her own, but she is trying to handle things and doing it mostly in secret. This does create an interesting situation that we see in my opinion. She is doing things that she learned from the cult to what she believes is the only way to help Stephanie. Where things end up in the end is quite interesting and she might not actually be doing what she thinks that she is. It might not be as helpful.

The construction of the movie is also done in an interesting way to reveal this information. We meet Katie and much of what happened to her is shown in flashbacks and voice-over. The more that she tries to distance herself and the more the stress mounts, the more she gets headaches and physically doesn’t feel well. These are intercut as well to give us an interesting duality to what she is doing in her life now, as opposed to when she was with the cult. There also seems to be an intriguing aspect here where Katie wasn’t that much different from the people she is working with now when she first arrived with the cult. What they do with her though is much different and not helpful to her becoming better as a person though.

Going along with this, I want to shift over to the effects and cinematography. We don’t get a lot in the way of the first part here. There is blood that looks really good. There also seems to be some animal parts that looked to be real, but I’m assuming not actually hurting the animals to be used. What I really want to delve into though would be the cinematography. I read in the press release that Stephanie is the real sister of the writer/director. He wanted to make a movie with her so he needed to get a lot of releases in order to film her as well as the group she goes to for the care that she needs. This makes the movie almost feel like a documentary with a horror movie framed around it. It does take a bit away from the movie, but I do applaud Kinkle for deciding to do this and highlighting these individuals. Aside from that and getting back to the effects, we do get the strobe light at the climax. I didn’t mind it as it makes what we’re seeing more eerie, but my fiancée Jaime wasn’t a fan. It could be that she was uncomfortable, making it effective.

What also works really well here is the soundtrack. Sean Spillane made this really unnerving song that they use pretty much throughout. It really helps the vibe the movie is going for and creating that atmosphere. The movie also uses this bell that will chime at regular intervals. It usually signifies when Katie starts to remember things from her past and as the movie goes on, this becomes more and more frequent as she descends into madness.

Then the last thing would be the acting. I find it interesting that almost everyone in the cast is pretty much playing themselves or just characters with the same first name. I thought Groshong did really well at this woman who was lost, got in with the wrong crowd with this cult and now trying to break from it. She does a really good job at trying to keep things together while we watch her breakdown mentally. Edmiston is solid as her co-worker to help frame things as we go. I loved seeing Fessenden in this minor role as the cult leader. I feel like it is his voice we keep throughout and it is effective. Also shout out to Stephanie Kinkle and the rest of the participants at the center she goes to. I did like that they were included here instead of having actors to pretend to be intellectually disabled.

So then in conclusion, I think that this movie does do some things really well. The story is one that is interesting and doesn’t have a lot of depth. It is really more of a character story following Katie. I think her performance works and using Stephanie Kinkle and the other people from this center adds an element here. The soundtrack and cinematography do an excellent job of building atmosphere. I do feel some of the documentary feeling stuff does bog the movie down a bit, but I will say that I never got bored. Overall I would still say this is an above average movie, just missing some things to go higher personally.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

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