Katie (Katie Groshong) has had a troubled past that she is hoping to move beyond, settle down and get a proper job, basically get her life back. But from whom? She believes herself to be a cult survivor who was subjected to terrible abuse by the leaders, and she can still hear the voice of the ringmaster of the group in her head if she's not careful. But has her trauma created hallucinations, and can she be trusted around vulnerable people? This matter is especially pressing for she has secured a job in a care home for the developmentally disabled, as if caring for someone besides herself will bring her potential for sanity into sharper focus. And all goes well, until she starts to fixate on one of the residents, Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle)...
Dementer was a singular horror movie from low budget auteur Chad Crawford Kinkle, who wanted to make his sister, who has Down Syndrome, into a movie star. So he constructed this narrative around her, ensuring she was not going to be doing anything that might distress her but bringing something unsettling out of the audience’s concern for a vulnerable adult. Not that Kinkle made her vulnerable in this situation, indeed by all appearances she barely knew she was acting at all, and possibly was not, simply behaving naturally and the director used those scenes and shots with her to build the chills on. You could not really say she was giving a performance, but this served to bring an authenticity to the production, even as you could see they were not working with enormous resources.
Indeed, the sequences where Groshong simply hung out with the care home residents could have passed for a documentary had they not been framed as a horror flick, and at times it came across as two movies running at once, the real life cinema verité business of simply recording the protagonist interacting with what looked like non-professionals (not that they were jarring, simply unaffected), mixed with the nightmarish parts where Katie falls victim to her demons, who may be genuine or may not be. For instance, she fetches a cow heart from a butcher, and he is played by Larry Fessenden who if you’ve seen any number of indie horrors will be a familiar face to the extent that alarm bells will start ringing the second he appears. But is Katie projecting her fears onto a stranger, or has the cult leader been posing as the butcher?
If there's a problem here, it may be that the restrictions Kinkle both placed on himself and had placed on him unwittingly do affect the end result. His sister could only do so much, so there's a sense that he was merely pointing the camera at her and keeping his fingers crossed she would do something they could use. In fact, Dementer was curiously reminiscent of a contemporary horror, Jordan Graham's Sator from the same year, as that took a family member who had mental disability and placed them at the centre of a devil worship yarn as well, though ultimately these headed in different directions. Meanwhile as Katie descends into her private she seems determined to drag someone down with her as a way of exorcising herself, and that someone could be Stephanie, who may end up the same as the cat Katie adopted from a rescue centre, slaughters (out of shot) and proceeds to burn as a sacrifice. If this was understandably limited in what it could depict, it nevertheless made you consider your attitudes to those like Stephanie by presenting her and her friends in a bizarre setting. Music by Sean Spillane.