Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

aka The Taking

Mia (Michelle Ang) and her duo of a film crew (Jeremy DeCarlos and Brett Gentile) are shooting a documentary on Alzheimer’s patient Deborah Logan (Jill Larson), and the way caring for her influences her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay). And yes, the film we are about to see consists of the footage they are shooting, so welcome to POV horror land again.

At first, Deb seems to be in the early stages of her illness but her condition deteriorates horribly quickly during the first few days the camera crew is with her. She quickly turns from an older woman who is infrequently phasing out a little to someone more often than not bound up in screaming fits of anger and self-mutilation. There’s something even more insidious going on with her than just the total collapse of her mental faculties, though, for last time anyone checked, levitation, raving in a language one doesn’t know and telekinesis aren’t exactly part of Alzheimer’s symptoms. The more horrific occurrences the Sarah and the film crew witness, the more sure they become something supernatural is happening. Research leads them to a series of murders several decades ago that seem to be connected to a very old, and very nasty ritual.

At first, Adam Robitel’s The Taking looks quite a bit like your run of the mill 2010s POV possession horror movie. Things, however, leave the realm of the generic pretty quickly for something rather more specific and individual, and therefore more effective and horrifying, until the film it culminates in a finale that may use certain very well worn POV horror mainstays but also puts some things on screen I actually have never seen done in another film quite this way.

Most certainly, I haven’t seen them done this effectively, for not only does Robitel’s film use what looks like a coherent mythology to construct the film’s supernatural menace, it also demonstrates a fine sense for the timing of its escalation as well as for the various revelations of what’s going on, early on fruitfully using audience expectations about possession horror and the horrors of Alzheimer’s, but going its own way once playing around with generics would weaken the film. There’s also a much firmer sense of characterisation on display than you’ll find in most POV horror pieces (despite its appearance of intimacy, the form really doesn’t lend itself to depth in this regard), with at least Sarah coming off as an actual complex person. On the character front, it’s also worth mentioning how well The Taking does inclusivity, using characters who are lesbian, or Asian, or black, or white without the need for big gestures or explanations, just quite matter-of-factly showing people of all shapes and forms as normal parts of the world. Which, to me, seems like the best way to go about these things. This also fits in well with another of the film’s strengths, its eye for details that make its situations just the decisive bit more believable, even if a detail is just the shaking hands of an anthropologists who has just watched a video of Deb not being herself anymore at all. (As an aside, it’s also typical of the film’s approach to genre tropes that the anthropologist is quite a bit more helpful than a priest Sarah tries to ask for help).

And in the end, The Taking of Deborah Logan is also just a highly effective and often imaginative horror film that grounds itself in the very quotidian – and all the more disturbing for it - horror of Alzheimer’s to go from there to some inspired moments of less quotidian horror and even that most curious of things, a kicker ending that actually does work with what came before because it is the logical conclusion to what we’ve seen.

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