Friday, January 2, 2015

The Taking of Deborah Logan - Movie Review

The Taking of Deborah Logan
Released 2014
Directed by Adam Robitel

Found-footage possession?  Again?  How can anyone possibly squeeze a passable movie out of such a threadbare formula?  Well, when you cast a jaw-dropping (hee, hee) mature actress as your lead, and make it uncomfortably about Alzheimer's, it's not so hard.

The Taking of Deborah Logan first got my attention not via pitch or preview, but when a friend of mine showed me some of the most puzzling and horrifying gifs I've ever seen on tumblr.  Now, I know tumblr gifs aren't the best way to start a story, but they definitely piqued the interest of the room, and we all set out on a quest to figure out: WHAT IS THAT FROM?  A found-footage movie from 2014, apparently.

What made me rearrange the schedule for horror-movie night, putting Deborah Logan at the top, was a look at the premise.  Deborah Logan is an aging woman from rural Virginia and reluctant subject of a documentary about Alzheimer's and the psychological toll it takes on those who care for Alzheimer's patients.  Naturally, the film spirals out of control as Deborah deteriorates into madness, self-mutilation, and violence.  As the documentary crew dig into Deborah's past as the town's switchboard operator, they uncover a series of grizzly unsolved murders.  Four girls were brutalized, and the suspected killer disappeared.  Deborah knows something, but the secrets are mixed in a snarl of delusion about serpents, rituals, and devil-worship.

The reason you should watch Deborah Logan is not for the mind-bending effects near the end, or the gleeful turn towards traditional possession-horror it takes half-way through, you should watch it for Deborah Logan herself.  You should watch it for how uncomfortable it will make you about dementia.  You should watch it for the well-developed, unique characters, how they relate to one another, and how their choices are remarkably, frustratingly human.  You should watch it for the humble sense of humor the movie has about itself.

I'm not ashamed to say that the first half of Deborah Logan made me yelp for my husband to join me on the couch.  I needed someone to snuggle.  It's deliciously creepy.  Full of long, silent, spooky scenes that don't necessarily end in jump scares.  In fact, the movie makes a habit of not scaring you- precisely so that the suspense is never adequately released.  I ended up watching perfectly innocuous character-development scenes set in broad daylight with a sense of dread and apprehension.

Jill Larson (aka Deborah herself), gives such an incredible performance, it's... difficult to do justice to with words.  She transforms herself from a polite, Southern lady you could easily mistake for one of your relatives, to a raving, naked, dangerous monster.  Her physical acting, in sculpting her facial expressions, body language, and voice, is astonishing and richly delivered.  She is the warping, glimmering, bleeding heart and dark soul of this movie.

Ask her what happened to her neck.

Honestly, around the hour mark when the crew discovers the mystery of Henri Desjardins, the French Satanist who may well be possessing Deborah from beyond the grave, I was relieved.  The movie's steady and exciting pace drives it along as its content veers hard right into classical possession territory.  From there, it's a satisfyingly familiar horror romp through forests, abandoned mills, and twisting cave passages.  It's filled with scaly nightmares and heroism.

But before that right turn, Deborah Logan can be very hard to watch from an emotional standpoint.  The desperate gallows humor of Deborah's daughter as she drenches her exhaustion and pain with alcohol; the way Deborah's hair becomes lank and dirty; the manner in which her deterioration is all too familiar to anyone acquainted with Alzheimer's or mental illness.  And that's what sets The Taking of Deborah Logan apart in my mind: the fact that it made me cry before it made me jump.

Or, if you're unmoved by that sort of thing, Deborah Logan is a movie full of subtle and astounding makeup effects, chilling ambiance, a diverse cast, and strong female characters.  It's got venom-spitting, child endangerment, electrocutions, dirt-vomit, and more old-lady rump than you'd probably ever put in your own horror movie.  And then, when you get to the part at the end that inspired those tumblr gifs, your mind will reel and refuse to process what you're seeing.

Deborah Logan isn't without its flaws, of course.  It's not a "pure" found-footage movie, as it frequently pipes in spoopy ambient booms and roars ala Paranormal Activity.  The shaky-cam near the end nauseated me (literally- I get carsick easy).  The plot is predictable and follows the genre formula to a tee.

But, just like a really good plate of spaghetti, Deborah Logan makes up for its over-done recipe with tons of flavor and excellent execution.  Sure, you may have chowed through any number of mediocre bowls of mushy pasta and bland sauce, but when a spicy, meaty, perfectly al dente plate is put in front of you, are you sure you don't want to take just the tiniest bite?


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