Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #301
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 21, 2014
Sub-Genre: Supernatural/Found Footage
Country of Origin: United States
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Adam Robitel
Producers: Jeff Rice, Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Gavin Heffernan, Adam Robitel
Special Effects: Gage Hubbard, Vincent J. Guastini, Joshua Ballze, Jeffrey S. Farley
Cinematography: Andrew Huebscher
Score: Haim Mazar
Editing: Gavin Heffernan, Adam Robitel
Studios: Bad Hat Harry Productions, Casadelic Pictures, Jeff Rice Films, Millennium Films
Distributors: Eagle Films, Millennium Entertainment
Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona, Anne Bedian, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Tonya Bludsworth, Julianne Taylor
Suggested Audio Candy
S-Express “Coma II”
Alzheimer’s is a most cruel affliction. Seemingly unfussy as it strikes, this callous cognitive disease begins by stripping away one’s short-term memory before steadily worsening to the point where those suffering withdraw from society and ultimately their own families. Some of the greatest literary minds have become blighted by this spiteful strain of dementia, Terry Gilliam being one such stricken scribe, and despite great leaps in medicine, precious little is known about what its beef actually is or why it sees fit to strike. Adam Robitel’s The Taking of Deborah Logan uses the disorder as a backdrop for something far darker and more ominous and may well be the reason that you don’t catch a wink of sleep tonight.
Robitel and co-writer Gavin Heffernan’s decision to use the well-trodden found footage template to tell their tale was not one that I initially welcomed if I’m honest. The sub-genre has long since become utterly saturated by young film-makers looking to use this decidedly economical approach to storytelling and, while The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity used the technique to maximum effect, the bandwagon has become rather over-crowded in subsequent years. The chief issue I have with the stuttering hand-held droves is that they invariably play out the same way without fail. We spend the lion’s share of our time dealing with the obligatory discombobulation of following the twitchy camera, waiting for the handful of moments where our reality becomes altered. It’s a long haul and doesn’t make for the most stimulating experience. When their film stammered out of the blocks, it appeared it would be business as usual. However, there are always exceptions to any rule.
It tells the story of a group of documentary film-makers charting the steady decline of our dementia-stricken senior citizen as the debilitating disease takes its choke hold. Led by Mia (Michelle Ang) who is working on this project for her medical PhD thesis, the crew are afforded access by Deborah’s daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay) in exchange for a chunk of their grant money and they commence their access-all-areas study. It isn’t long before they realize that there is far darker work afoot than it first appears and their subject’s deterioration coincides with some seriously incalculable phenomena.
The first thing Robitel gets on the money is that his mockumentary warrants our sympathy from the offset. As the threads of Deborah’s psyche become all the more tenuous, Sarah becomes increasingly helpless and we truly feel for her as her plight worsens. Deborah is largely oblivious to any paranormal activity as her affliction is tightening its grip on her slackening mental state or, at least, that is how it seems initially. She is slipping into the void for sure although senility cannot take the sole credit for her enfeeblement as demonic possession has its cold hand in all that transpires.
The screenplay by Robitel and Heffernan is more than up to scratch and the pair explore Indian folklore and Shaman rituals, whilst keeping things ambiguous enough to pique our interest through any slumps in the narrative. Speaking of which, the pace here is far brisker than most of the paranormal tropes and there are constant spikes in activity throughout its 90 minute duration. More critically, it doesn’t merely bank on cheap shock tactics to chill the blood in our ventricles and instead builds a most portentous atmosphere which hangs in the air like a murky fog. Larson is the ideal choice as Logan; gangly, gaunt and haunted, she meanders about dark attic spaces in her nightdress and occasionally less, mincing with the demons with eyes like blackened coal pips. It’s a hugely committed and courageous performance and positively reeks authenticity. I, for one, wouldn’t wish to clean her bed pan.
As much as we aren’t kept waiting for incident, we always get the idea that things are spiraling somewhere murkier and the final act, where things could so easily have fallen apart, steals the air from our lungs and challenges each optical nerve as well as our mettle as subjects of the damned. The conclusion is horrendous and includes imagery potent enough to burrow deep into our cerebellums and remain dormant until our lights go out. It is then, long after the credits have rolled, that The Taking of Deborah Logan continues to resonate, as attested by crawling skin and slippery mind serpents slithering about our frontal lobes with menacing intent. You want a dash of fear before bedtime? Ask yourself once more whether that is really what you desire as you cannot unwatch this movie.
Films like this you just don’t see coming. Robitel, in his full-length directorial debut, has proven himself as one to watch very closely indeed over coming years as has Heffernan for that matter. The pair have single-handedly reinstated my faith in found footage movies, so long as they are executed with this kind of precision and ease. You may not watch a film this year quite so ghastly, one which affects you quite so effortlessly, and one which plagues your psyche quite so playfully. I recommend The Taking of Deborah Logan unreservedly and pray that it receives the recognition it richly deserves. If I were Logan, and I never thought I would say this, then I would embrace my scourge, and take comfort in consigning my memories to oblivion.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 5/5
For the Dread-Heads: If fear is the mindkiller then Robitel has blood on his hands. Not since The Blair Witch Project has terror been quite so tangible and, when you consider how ineffectual and stagnant this genre has become in recent years, that is a rather significant compliment. The real kicker however is that we aren’t forced through an hour of banal exchanges and twitch-inducing nothingness to feel consternation’s icy grip.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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