GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Chad Crawford Cinkle.
Starring Katie Groshong, Larry Fessenden, Stephanie Kinkle.
Horror, US, 80 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.
DEMENTER is a troubling film on several levels. With its story of a woman seeking refuge in a small town fleeing a bloodthirsty devil worshipping cult you have the familiar woman on the run premise, but its style and atmosphere are what really get under the skin here. Shot on location with a largely non-professional cast DEMENTER is an exercise in dread that has a naturalistic feel that permeates every frame. This style, or lack of, along with the films ambiguous storytelling ensure that the film lingers in the memory long after its gut punch of a conclusion.
Katie Groshong, collaborating again with writer and director Chad Crawford Cinkle after his previous exercise in rural horror JUG FACE, plays a young woman who drifts into a small-town gaining employment in a care home for adults with special needs. Hiding the fact from her employers that she is living in her car and carries scars, both physically and mentally, from her recent past it is obvious that she is hiding. Elliptical flashbacks fill in some of the blanks for the audience; we see that Katie was taken in by a backwoods group of drifters led by a figure named Larry, played by indie horror kingpin Larry Fessenden, using his own first name here like the rest of the cast. Obviously troubled, Katie feels that something from her time in the woods may have followed her and may have designs on Stephanie, one of the women in Katie’s care.
There is an edge at play here that without being explicit in showing any trauma still manages to effortlessly unsettle. The storyline of DEMENTER is ambiguous, never going into full on specifics about its characters or the events surrounding them. However, Kinkle doles out information expertly without having to delve into expository dialogue. At times it may feel like it skirts with the abstract but for patient and attentive viewers all the clues are there on screen right up until its unsettling ending that proves ambiguous in a few ways.
The decision to film in a care home with real adults with special needs has caused some cause for concern among audiences worrying about exploitation. The fact that Stephanie is played by the director’s sister and the matter-of-fact way she is portrayed, as well as the rest of the cast should hopefully allay those fears. Stephanie’s condition, as well as Stephanie herself, is never treated in a cliched “other” fashion but in a simple and grounded style that contains more empathy than many big budget, misguided features that try to prove their well-meaning intentions often unsuccessfully.
Made with next to no budget this is horror film making made from an altogether more truthful and emotional place. Despite the demons that haunt its edges it carries a degree of realism that is absent from the majority of horror cinema. Down to earth and more disturbing for it, DEMENTER may not be an easy watch; among other things it portrays the hard scrabble life of many Americans who struggle from pay cheque to pay cheque as well as those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others and the cyclical effects that occur as a result. Simply yet smartly told DEMENTER manages to accomplish a lot with its limited resources and is well worth seeking out.