Chattanooga Film Festival 2020
“The blood shows devils the way”
So opens the voiceover in the micro-budget horror Dementer, which is neither revealed to be the voice of a narrator, secondary character, or the voice of the devil. It is just a voice, that repeats itself often, and likes counting down from ten. Intended to be menacing, it ends up being rather annoying, and unfocused, much like the rest of Dementer; which starts off in a promising fashion, especially with regards to representation, before eventually falling off the deep end completely.
Our hero Katie (Katie Groshong) is a master of compartmentalization. She is a great care worker at a facility for people with down’s syndrome, working long shifts at irregular hours to make sure they get the care they need. But outside the work environment, she suffers from a variety of bizarre visions. Stressed by banging and clashing sounds, shaky cam, and an off-colour filter, we never really know what these hallucinations are about. (According to the press notes, she left a cult — but can you call four poorly dressed people standing in a room a “cult”?) While Groshong does a decent job with what she has, these flashbacks, insistently repeated, soon lose our interest quickly; both due to their insistent ambiguity and their amateurish composition.
Conversely, scenes in the centre have a documentary-like aspect, genuinely interested in the process of providing these people with proper care. Director Chad Crawford Kinkle’s own sister, Stephanie, who features in the film, has down’s syndrome and his representation of them displays a level of empathy often unseen in contemporary cinema. Nonetheless, these people are used more as something for Katie to bounce off than characters in their own right. We don’t hear them discuss their lives or desires, or learn anything about them, making their inclusion feel ultimately unmemorable. Perhaps a short slice-of-life documentary would’ve been better suited to the story, which can’t find a satisfying way to unite these two different strands. Like Katie herself, they feel as if they exist in different compartments. Therefore, when deep stress leads Katie’s personal life to encroach upon her ability to care, the way they are blended causes more frustration than genuine catharsis.
Dementer takes place in the territory of the psychological horror; a character portrait with elements of terror rather than a straight-up genre film. Made on a shoestring budget, it sees Kinkle making more with less — using montage, unsettling music, and atmosphere — to suggest deep emotional trauma rather than tackle it head-on. Yet due to the obtuse way it represents both Katie and the people she treats, its hard to even say what the film is about (for one thing, we never even learn why “blood shows devils the way”). Later, by repeating the same tricks over and over again — only once scaling it up to provide some genuinely strange shock — Dementer quickly grows tiresome, especially thanks to the droning score. There is simply no reason for this film to be 80 minutes long.
The Chattanooga Film Festival takes place online via 22nd – 25th May. Learn more via the website!