When thinking about the occult or folk horror genre in modern times there are a few obvious choices. 2018’s Hereditary and 2019’s Midsommar stand out, and not just because they share the same director in Ari Aster, but because they were both successful modern horror movies that, despite being divisive in some quarters, were genuinely effective and powerful films that relied heavily on atmosphere, strength of plot, and the performances of the actors to make them work. The same could be said of Robert Eggers 2015 film The VVitch. Again, always divisive but nevertheless a haunting film with an element of mystery for the most part.
But what about the more underground or ‘below the radar’ films that may not get the same attention as the above box office hits? This is where filmmaker Chad Crawford Kinkle comes in. In 2013 he made a a minor ripple in the horror world with his debut feature length movie, Jug Face. An indie folk horror of sorts, with a strong cast and a strange and unique feel throughout. This pointed Kinkle out as one to watch, and although it’s been quite a long wait for his next feature it has been worth it, as Dementer (2019), with its offbeat, creepy feel and occult-led plotline, is the type of film that fans of his previous work should love. And with this new release, Arrow Video haven’t just given us Dementer, they have added Jug Face along with it! Perfect for horror fans looking for something different, and a director with a unique vision and a sense of what it takes to make creepy, unnerving and original horror.
Dementer certainly starts off just how you’d want, with a genuinely chilling opening scene that hints as to the main characters past with what looks like flashbacks and sinister visions. This sets us up for our first proper meeting with Katie (Katie Goshong), a young woman looking to make a fresh start by getting a job as a carer for vulnerable adults. All seems fine at the start, with Katie getting on with both staff and clients, but a strange connection with one of the clients with Down’s Syndrome, Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle), means that something dark and disturbing is happening and Katie might just know what it is. It seems, just like the scene at the start of the film suggests, there is a lot more to Katie that meets the eye.
Due to the scary opening scene, the audience is always aware that something disturbing is happening or is going to happen, but when that is is a mystery, and this keeps the viewer on their toes throughout. Along with the use of chants, heavy breathing and voices calling out seemingly from nowhere, Dementer gets creepier as it goes on. In fact, the voices/chants are a big hint to viewers about what actually is going on and it’s quite a clever plot device from Chad Crawford Kinkle, as the general offbeat, weird vibe the film creates along with the flashbacks and visions throughout could leave some viewers confused. But it soon becomes clear that Dementer is a film within the occult sub-genre, with its talk of “the devils”, Katie’s use of a mysterious book before key scenes, as well as what looks like a ritual at one point, all giving hints and clues to the type of film Kinkle is wanting to make.
What also makes Dementer stand out in the horror crowd is the fact that Chad Crawford Kinkle used only two established and working actors for Dementer: Katie Groshong, and veteran horror actor Larry Fessenden. So, even more credit to Kinkle for working with a largely inexperienced cast, some of which are vulnerable people; the character of Stephanie is actually played by Chad Crawford Kinkle’s sister. This isn’t just a brave move from the filmmaker, it also adds an element of realism to Dementer, with the scenes in the care home and the house of vulnerable adults having a documentary feel to them at times. Overall, this definitely adds to the atmosphere of the film, ultimately making it more effective and affecting.
As Dementer draws to a close in a way that is as dark, disturbing and mysterious as the rest of the film, it certainly stays with you and leaves you thinking. But as fans of the aforementioned films will tell you, as well as fans of the likes of cult folk horrors Lords of Salem and Antrum, being left to ponder after a film isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact can leave you with some quite interesting and dark ideas of your own.
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So what of Jug Face? Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut is definitely a striking first feature that, like Dementer, is a unique and interesting take on the occult/folk horror sub-genre. Also known as The Pit, Jug Face‘s animated opening credit sequence gives clues as to where the film is going to end up, and the type of film it is going to be. A fairly graphic sex scene early on, that soon after has a disturbing revelation, proves that Chad Crawford Kinkle isn’t afraid to make waves with his films. And as his unique vision unfolds we find out about the pit: a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods that seems to have powers, acting as some kind of god to the local community, sometimes in a gory, frantic fashion, which while disturbing can make for a powerful and gripping watch.
The cast for a debut indie horror is certainly impressive too. Lauren Ashley Carter – also known for her roles in the likes of Darlin‘ and The Woman – does a great job here in the lead role of Ada., showing power and bravery, but also being vulnerable to those around her. Alongside Carter, seasoned actors Larry Fessenden, Sean Bridgers and Sean Young all have important roles to play. Sean Bridgers is brilliant here as a down-on-his-luck man who can supposedly see by the powers of his mind who the pit wants to take next. It’s his mistake that leads this small woodland community into chaos and tragedy.
Dark, offbeat, and sometimes brutal in its approach, Jug Face is certainly a unique, powerful, and eye opening first feature that will definitely divide audiences; but for fans of occult-led or folk horror, it’s a film to be appreciated, and on its initial release did indeed gain a cult audience.
The extras on both the Dementer and Jug Face discs are of decent quality. A highlight of the Dementer extras is a very insightful conversation over video call between Chad Crawford Kinkle, filmmaker Lucky McKee, and actor/filmmaker Larry Fessenden, titled ‘Outsider Art and Dementer’, where the trio talk about their influences and views on horror and working together, among other things. Alongside this is an interesting ‘making of‘ documentary, and there are short films by Chad Crawford Kinkle included here, showing his progression from amateur to professional filmmaker, his unique style and vision being clear even early on in his career.
The Jug Face disc has a brilliant in-depth interview with Chad Crawford Kinkle where he talks about both Jug Face and Dementer, and it’s great to see this relatively new director talk openly about his experiences on both films, and how much he learnt on set. Another highlight is a recent interview with Lauren Ashley Carter, as the actress recalls both the good and bad times in making Jug Face, and speaks enthusiastically about her fellow cast members.
Overall, the extras on both discs, along with the films themselves, make for another great package from Arrow Video, and will hopefully persuade you to check out these unique horror films if you haven’t already.
Dementer + Jug Face is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.