Monday, April 6, 2015


Some of us were born with looks.

Some with money.

Some with incredible athletic ability.

Others with drive.

Some with a combination of everything great in the world

And many with brains.

I am by no means the smartest crayon to ever escape the box, but like many a person who relies on my knowledge or ability to obtain knowledge, the idea of losing that tool is positively terrifying. I could function without a hand, should a Jamie Lannister-esque fight ever be lost. I could work with a scarred face or slowly rebuild my bank account should I ever be swindled by a charming singing monorail salesman. I could do these things in spite of great tragedy because at the end of the terrible horrible no good very bad day, I have my mind.

Now imagine I don't.

Alzheimer’s is a terrifying, tragic condition that I hope to never experience firsthand. To lose memories to senility is one thing; to lose life moments and your very fundamental ability to piece them together is, I can only imagine, a living nightmare both for you and those around you. Of COURSE there is a horror movie centered on the disease, and I don't think it will spoil anything to say the shame is that, while The Taking of Deborah Logan is a good film, the horror story it tells can simply not come close to the terror it creates simply by documenting the disease.

Quick Plot: Psychology grad student Mia is making a documentary film about Alzheimer’s and, more specifically, its effect on the primary caregiver to the afflicted patient. With her two-man film crew, Mia heads to the countryside home of the Logans, a mother/daughter team in financial and medical trouble.

Mom Deborah (the fantastic Jill Larson) has just entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a tragedy made even worse when we learn that the single mom was a smart, determined working woman who ran her own switchboard business for twenty years. Grown daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay, known forever to me as A League of Their Own's first baseman Helen Haley) copes with the age-old mechanisms of humor and vodka. 

(and the occasional double play)
Deborah's condition seems to worsen at an expedited speed, leading to midnight episodes where she awakens the household in fits of screaming and self-mutilation. Little by little, Sarah and Mia begin to piece together a bigger mystery that connects Deborah to a long-vanished neighborhood child killer who may have had a close relationship with an evil force.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is presented as a sort of cross between found footage and a documentary. Mia IS making a straight medical documentary, but later scenes that go into the 'action,' if you will, wouldn't really have ended up in the final product. So that's one minor drawback: at one point, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be watching. Was this a documentary that spun out of control, or is this a more a Lake Mungo-esque situation? 

The confusion is one strike, and the inevitable "I can't see anything when you run with a camera in a dimly lit cave" complaint is certainly another. Those issues aside, first-time director Adam Robitel has assembled a fascinating, scary, and sad genre film that stands a good head above most of its found footage brethren. 

It starts with the performances, and in the title role, Larson is just as good as you might have heard. The actress (probably best known for soap opera work) creates something of a masterpiece in Deborah, channeling everything from the conservative Catholic mother who feels uneasy around her gay daughter to the fragile hospital patient and potentially possessed monster. We see a shockingly vivid picture of exactly who Deborah was, something made all the stronger by seeing how different she now appears. 

The shame of The Taking of Deborah Logan is that, as you might suspect, the ultimate plot is just nowhere as interesting as its leadup. The driving ghost story isn’t terrible, and would work just fine in its own movie. But when you wrap it in a narrative that’s just so much more heartbreaking and compelling, it’s hard to leave the film without feeling a little let down. First-time director Adam Robitel (whose credits primarily include editing and documentary video shorts) definitely shows a lot of strength in getting great performances, creating interesting characters, and building some decent scares, but with this film, those things never quite override the limits of the subgenre.

High Points
It’s always a good thing to see a genre film filled with multiple strong female characters (granted, it shouldn’t HAVE to be a thing to note, but it’s 2015 and still not the norm, so I shall). The Taking of Deborah Logan belongs to its women, from the mother-daughter pair to Mia, who’s presented as a capable student that doesn’t fall prey to the typcal found footage cliches, and even Deborah’s primary doctor who just so happens to be a woman

Low Points
It's petty to ask after watching a decade's worth of found footage films, but I mean, I JUST WANT TO SEE WHAT'S GOING SO CAN YOU LET ME DO THAT ALREADY?

I tried.

Lessons Learned
White people sure do love their attics

As a police officer, one should probably be prepared with the basic tools of investigation. Such tools include a standard flashlight because, you know, you're a police officer and should probably keep one handy in your glove compartment

Always expect a burlap bag to be filled with extremely venomous snakes. If you’re not living by this rule, I really don’t even know how you’ve made it this far. 

The GAH! Thing
Everyone has that 'THING' that makes them cringe. For many, it's eyeball or fingernail trauma. A shockingly large portion of horror audiences curl up into Poffle ballls as soon as an Achilles tendon is severed. Following Deborah Logan's Hummel figurine snack and Oculus's lightbulb bite, I've found my ick: chewing on non-edible objects. IT IS THE WORST.

Well, that and ventriloquist dummies.

And caterpillars. 

This world we live in is a hard world.

Streaming on Netflix at a breezy 90 minutes, The Taking of Deborah Logan is definitely one to watch. Jill Larson’s performance alone makes it worthy. Found footage style fans will find plenty to enjoy here, though I ultimately think the film falls short by not finding a way to work its more human narrative into its typical ghost one, but it’s still a strong debut for director Robitel. I wanted more, but I still managed to get a lot.

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