The Taking of Deborah Logan. 2014. Directed by Adam Robitel. Screenplay by Gavin Heffernan & Robitel.
Starring Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Ryan Cutrona, Tonya Bludsworth, Anne Bedian, Randell Haynes, & Jeffrey Woodard.
Casadelic Pictures/Bad Hat Harry Productions/Jeff Rice Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
There’s nothing more horrific than Alzheimer’s disease. It affects the people with it and those around the one afflicted in various ways, from physically to emotionally. I can’t particularly think of many horrors, if any, that have tackled this idea. Only recently another film called Dementia touched on similar issues of mental illness, though much differently. The Taking of Deborah Logan takes on the faux documentary found footage style with a plot that follows a camera crew filming a woman with Alzheimer’s, as well as her daughter who takes care of her, and essentially it’s a thesis project for one woman involved. Through this lens, we’re able to get an inner circle view of the struggle with a terrible disease. Or is there more lurking behind the frame, waiting to be exposed?
First feature director Adam Robitel, along with Gavin Heffernan sharing duties on the script, brings us a vision of illness that almost plays as an entire metaphor. As the plot progresses we begin to realise there’s other things happening. Perhaps something far more sinister than Alzheimer’s. Robitel makes solid choices as director, but above all he’s aided by a breathtakingly powerful performance out of lead actress Jill Larson in the titular role. While the screenplay could have used one or two tweaks throughout, for the most part this is one of my favourite found footage films in the past decade.
Some short, basic talk here before diving in.
I’ve got an issue. Lots of people complain about people here walking into rooms that are dark and not turning lights on, as if you’d walk into somebody’s rooms throughout their house and flick lights on when you’re a guest in their house. Sarah (Anne Ramsay) is obviously a member of the household, but when they’re looking for her mother they also don’t want to frighten her. Jamming the lights on if she were hiding might frighten her, shock the senses. If you know anything about patients with Alzheimer’s, last thing you want to do is frighten them. So y’know, their safety trumps your being scared of dark corners. And honestly, what changes if you turn on a light? Deborah is still possessed with the darkness of a serial killer from beyond the grave, she’s still going absolutely mental. Switching the light on doesn’t solve shit.
Also, YOU DON’T ACT LIKE YOU KNOW ABOUT HORROR MOVIES WHEN YOU’RE ACTUALLY IN ONE! You can’t bitch about people not turning on a light because something scary could happen possibly, because they’re not thinking a monster is behind the door, or a killer is about to jump out at them. Not everybody automatically switches a light on, especially if they’re using a camera. Why would they? Also, if you’re trying to creep around without people seeing you – a.k.a when you’re going places in the house you might not be welcome like in a couple scenes (such as when the window slams shut via Deborah) – then there’s no reason to turn on a light and broadcast your location.
My god. Do I really have to explain these things? Nah. Maybe I’m reading online comments too much. Anybody smart enough can decipher this shit on their own. Let’s move on.
The screenplay is pretty great, aside from a few little bits and pieces. Otherwise, the characters and the plots are exciting. In particular, both Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay have great characters. Daughter Sarah is a complex character that we actually never fully understand, though we’re privy to a nice few mentions that give us an idea of her identity, her personality. Love how they briefly mention that she’s lesbian without having to make it a huge deal, as if it’s abnormal. Rather it just helps to make up part of character and adds different elements that keep us interested. The fact she’s lesbian plays into the relationship she has with her mother, who is Old Timey to say the least.
Then there’s Larson. She is downright fantastic. Some of the looks and the facial expressions alone are worth their weight in terror. The way they make her look, from framing of the shots down to the makeup they’ve done her, is an added aspect to make her unsettling. But it’s all in the performance. No matter how many practical effects or anything they throw at the camera, Larson is always the most interesting piece of the puzzle. I have to say, it’s hard to imagine such an impressive performance coming from somebody I’ve personally never seen before, other than in bit parts like Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and only recently in HBO’s Vinyl. Regardless, she keeps me glued to the screen from start until finish. Her presence is infectiously frightening, and part of why this movie is a chiller.
Deborah (in French): “Your blood will feed the river”
Scary is a subjective term. Everyone is scared of different things. The Taking of Deborah Logan scared me. Not as if it broke me, not at all. It compels me each time I see it.
One of the first scenes that legitimately jarred me was when they capture Deborah playing the piano in the dark, “Three Blind Mice”, and as the bare light in the frame starts to fade more the look on her face is chilling. Say what you want, and again scary is subjectively understood/felt, but if you don’t find that one bit is creepy then I’m not sure what you dig. And it’s not like I pissed myself. It’s just eerie.
Later when they go up into the attic (WITHOUT TURNING ON THE LIGHTS, YOU FUCKING CRY BABIES), the moment they set eyes on Deborah and then starts talking in this horrifying voice it nearly makes my blood run cold. As well as the fact the practical makeup effects on her are nasty, and well done.
Wandering in the hospital corridors (WHANNN NO LIGHTS WHANNN) is pretty damn creepy. And sure, they didn’t turn on the lights. But again, they had flashlights first of all. Second, again, they probably didn’t want to startle Deborah and send her running. After all they were dealing with a woman that had essentially kidnapped a little girl. So they likely were trying not to spur on any further erratic behaviours. I don’t know, fuck me right? Whatever. This whole sequence was unsettling and had me creeped out. In the end when they see the ‘snake mouth’ happening, that part really got to me. Amazing and filled with untold terror.
The finale is a wildly scary ride. It was unpredictable to me, and all the better for it. Despite its few flaws here or there, The Taking of Deborah Logan is a 4-star bit of horror cinema. It’s one of the better found footage efforts out of the last ten years and maybe one of my favourites ever. I’ve seen plenty of detractors online. That’s totally fine, again subjective. I love this movie and any time I’m lost for a found footage flick this gets popped in the DVD player. Robitel will be directing the next Insidious film, a franchise of which I’m a fan, so I wish him luck. Hope he brings the creepiness he cultivated here into that project, putting his own spin on the fourth entry. Because here he’s done one hell of a job as director. Proper scary madness.