Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan: A Paranormal Murder Mystery

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind I don't usually care much for found footage films, but there are exceptions. "The Taking of Deborah Logan" is one of them. With a strong cast, excellent direction and a unique look at the paranormal horror genre, director and co-writer Adam Robitel brings a different perspective to the genre. A documentary crew intent on following a woman diagnosed with the Alzheimer's. As the film crew gets deeper into the ravages of the disease, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than what we believe. In my book, a horror film isn't worth its salt if it isn't rated R and this one is. Produced by Bryan Singer's "Bad Hat Harry Productions," this film went directly to Netflix and so far, is getting above average user reviews and here’s why.

Similar in tone of "The Blair Witch Project," Mia (Michelle Ang), the female leader of the documentary crew is working on this project for her medical PhD thesis and focusing specifically on the effects on the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. She brings along Gavin (Brett Gentile) as editor, and Luis (Jeremy DeCarlos),as the rarely seen but essential cameraman. We meet the crew as they drive up to the Logan's property just outside of the town of Exuma. Set in the historic woods of Virginia, steeped in old legend of the Indians that lived there before the white man's arrival. The Logan's property is out in the woods and secluded. We are greeted jubilantly by Sarah Logan played by Anne Ramsay ("Dexter"), her mother Deborah (Jill Larson) is in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and due to financial reasons, Deborah is seeking a portion of the film crew's grant money in exchange for the interview and allowing them to document her mother's disease, for science. Deborah, who lives in Richmond with her female life partner, has come home to help with her mother. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan:  Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay| A Constantly Racing MindAs Sarah brings the group around back to meet her mother, she tells the crew that, her mom is so excited and that she has been cleaning and dusting the house as if "the president" was coming. Sarah also says that her mom comes off as, "a little salty, but it's just an act." She also tells the crew to say, "Please and thank you; kiss her ass." We find Deborah out in the back woody area with Harris (Ryan Cutrona), an old friend of the family. Almost immediately, as Deborah and Mia meet, Deborah's attitude changes and she decides she doesn't want to do the interview after all. The crew continues to film as Sarah and Deborah argue from inside the house. It is needless to say that the persistent group gets their way and a week later Deborah is welcoming and the weirdness begins. What helps in making this film believable is the interaction between Deborah and Sarah. As Deborah's mental condition gets worse, Sarah's concern and helplessness grows. Although the viewer knows that this is a film about demonic possession, you can't help but feel empathy for Sarah and the toll her mom is taking on her.

Co-writers Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan play off some of the conventional paranormal horror tropes. Which include American - Indian folklore ("The Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist"), the use of planted cameras ("Paranormal Activity"), security camera footage ("The Bay"), the disbelief in the paranormal ("The Last Exorcism"), creepy drawings that children usually draw of the ghosts or demons that they see ("Sinister," "Mama"), and the creepy shot with a character's back to the camera from the ending of "The Blair Witch Project." Also included is a dark secret that was once buried returns to life to haunt the living like in “Nightmare on Elm Street.” However, as a director, Robitel changes up some of these tropes and creates a new archetype utilizing instead, an older woman who has a mental illness. In Shamanistic societies, the mentally ill were regarded as sacred and speak words that come from the spirit realm. Heffernan and Robitel work into their story Monacan religion, a serial killer from the 1970's and a blood oath made by conspirators. Add to that the strong acting by both Larson and Ramsay, we watch as the scenes turn wi as each moment goes by. The film is intercut with Mia's medical school animations showing an Alzheimer's patient's brain, and interviews with Dir. Nazir (Anne Bedian) at the hospital up the level of realism a degree or two. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Brett Gentile and Jill Larson | A Constantly Racing Mind As the film progresses,  Ang's character Mia, becomes more determined to get to the bottom of the strange events than actually completing her thesis. Brett Gentile as Gavin does an excellent job of developing the sense of the paranormal as he brings out EVP voices interspersed in Deborah's demonic voices. Usually in films like this, the cameraman, gets the short end of the deal but not in this case. My other issue with found footage films is that the ending is abrupt and doesn't bring the viewer to a conclusion or some sort of catharsis. For example, "The Devil Inside," clocking in at around only 83 minutes leaves the audience unfulfilled and feeling that they paid for more than what they got. However, Robitel does a fine job of wrapping this one up.

In spite of the usual bad photography and shaky-cam in places where the characters are running around, the characters, strong acting, and the a different kind of story transcend the level of mediocrity that most horror films of this type fall into. For Halloween this year, or any year, I would heartily recommend “The Taking of Deborah Logan” for your paranormal thrill fix available now on Netflix.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Ryan Cutrona, Anne Bedian 
Director: Adam Robitel
Producer(s): Jeff Rice, Bryan Singer
Writer: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan 
Rating: R
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: 10/21/2014

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