In Dementer, his second feature film, Chad Crawford Kinkle explores how our past informs our perception of the world with wickedly entertaining results.

A profoundly unsettling viewing experience that is unlike anything we’ve seen before, Dementer cements Chad Crawford Kinkle as one of the most forward-thinking genre filmmakers working today.

In the film, a young woman named Katie (Katie Groshong) attempts to start over after fleeing a devil-worshipping backwoods cult. She finds purpose in a new job helping special needs adults in a small town but soon begins to believe that the demons from her past are attempting to claim the soul of a down syndrome woman (played by Kinkle’s sister) in her care. As her suspicions grow, Katie turns to a mysterious notebook in hopes of protecting the woman, and her response threatens to unravel her new life.

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Shot in Kinkle’s hometown of Fayetteville, Tennessee, Dementer is an ultra-low-budget thriller that feels undeniably fresh. Shot over two weeks, the film mainly stars special needs adults and the people who care for them. Most scenes look as though they are lifted from a documentary, but there are violent and disturbing flashes of Katie’s past life that come and go without warning to remind viewers something far more sinister is afoot. This grounded approach to storytelling makes every beat feel hauntingly real, which helps the unseen threat of terror slip into your flesh and rattle your bones.

Kinkle’s cleverness and his firm grasp on the horrifying influence of small-scale cults were evident with his debut feature, Jug Face. Still, Dementer expands his already impressive talents in many ways. He’s the person responsible for camera operations and editing, both of which play heavily into what makes the film work. You can sense how personal the story is in every beat, and the calamitous manner that Katie’s flashbacks unfold keeps viewings guessing while still conveying the understanding that something awful is occurring in this seemingly ordinary place. Of course, the performances of all involved help wi†h this, but Kinkle more than establishes his ability to make the impossible seem easy with everything he accomplishes behind the scenes.

It’s hard to describe the way Dementer makes you feel. As Kinkle pulls you into a very rarely seen world in cinema, viewers are destined to feel a strong connection with everyone on screen. We want to root for Katie trying to build a new life and the people in her care. We want the best for everyone on screen, making the creeping sense that something awful must happen almost too much to bear. No one in this film deserves to suffer, and yet, much like life itself, suffering abounds. Call it satan or the void or whatever you like. Still, you cannot shake the knowledge that darkness looms over the film’s events—Kinkle’s ability to sustain our fear of the unknown displays a masterful understanding of horror. 

While the ending may leave a few viewers torn, Dementer is inarguably worth your time. It’s a perfect exploration of what happens when a supernatural presence enters our world, and it showcases brilliant personalities that may otherwise never have reached movie audiences. Kinkle’s sister, Stephanie, is fantastic. You can say the same for fellow newcomer Brandy Edmiston and the adults who populate the film’s special needs community. There is a lot to love here, which is weird to say about a devilishly dark movie, and moments from its engrossing story will stick with you for years to come.