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.

Dementer is an interesting film. The story of Katie (Katie Groshong) who, after running from a cult, finds work as a live-in caretaker for the developmentally disabled only to have her mysterious past find its way back into her life. Featuring actors with a variety of disabilities, along with some first-time performers, the film aims for realism to bring a sense of urgency to the story that only occasionally works.

Told in an elliptical style, we begin the film with Katie arriving at a new town and interviewing for a position as a caretaker. She is haunted by flashbacks of her recent escape and while struggling to maintain a polite demeanor. Landing the job Katie is introduced to the people in her charge. It is here that we meet Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle). An unassuming 40 something woman with Down Syndrome who likes her work, her routine, and her place on the couch in the group home where Katie, Stephanie, and a few other patients reside.

Soon enough, Stephanie begins acting stranger than normal and getting violently ill. Katie is perplexed and begins to try helping her through bizarre means – e.g., placing a cow heart wrapped in foil under Stephanie’s bed. With the haunting voice of the cult leader that she left behind echoing in her head and an incessant chime that never seems to leave the soundtrack, Katie’s grip on reality begins to slip irrevocably as she tries to maintain a grip on reality.

Shot in a handheld fashion and featuring mostly non-actors, Dementer is an interesting horror film but not an entirely successful one.Writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle knows how to spin a cryptic yarn, leaving crumbs of a plot here and there at a rate that keeps the audience interested. He is also keenly aware of the raw power of an uninhibited performance in his use of players who are unfamiliar with the common demeanor of cinematic acting. These moments are actually a joy to watch, but they don’t always work. Placing Kinkle in the lead is an admirable choice but she is not utilized as much as she could be. This is exciting, tightrope filmmaking that is more to be admired for what it tries than what it achieves.

On another note, the tech elements are all adequate with the heavy lifting being done by Jeff Wedding’s camera that maintains an immediacy. Chad Crawford Kinkle‘s editing is en pointe too, keeping a shot here and there, lingering just enough to hold a tone of mystery. I will have to call out the overuse of Sean Spillane‘s earthy score. Invasively punctuating long stretches with a sharp chime to recall the cult that haunts Katie at every turn does little else aside from becoming annoying.

In the end, Dementer takes a satisfyingly dark turn that will redeem most of its minor flaws that pepper the runtime. It is a worthy experiment of inclusion that does a lot to add to the reality being portrayed. This had to have been a fascinating project to orchestrate. With a shoestring budget, mostly inexperienced actors, and a haunting story, Dementer is brave cinema, but not exactly successful.

Runtime: 1 hr 24 Mins
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