October Horrorshow: The Taking of Deborah Logan

The Taking of Deborah Logan, the horror film directed by Adam Robitel and written by Robitel and Gavin Heffernan, starts out very strong. It’s found footage, which, my Loyal Seven readers will know, I think is an overused technique in the horror genre. But, I was able to get past that.

The film tells the story of the eponymous title character as she is ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. A film crew is shooting a documentary on the disease with Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) as its subject. She is being cared for almost exclusively by her daughter, Sarah (Anne Ramsay), and we also get to see the toll the disease is taking on her. Early on, the film is a disturbing look into a disease of which far too many people have knowledge and experience. It’s not easy watching Deborah lose her lucidity, nor is it easy to see her shame when she comes out of the depths and learns what she did. It’s disturbing, but also a sanitized version crafted for filmgoers. The reality is far worse. But, it is a fantastic jumping off point for the story.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that dementia is not the only thing going on in Deborah’s mind. Signs of demonic possession begin showing themselves. Deborah moves instantaneously from one point to another, speaks in languages she doesn’t know, etc. As her behavior becomes more extreme the rest of the characters lose their doubts that what they are witnessing is something supernatural.

The progression of the disease/possession is where this film has its strongest pace and character development. But, there is a tipping point. Eventually Deborah’s behavior no longer resembles dementia and becomes identical to every demonic possession flick horror lovers have seen before. After this point, the film stays good, but it loses its originality. By the end, Robitel is even dipping into the old bag of tricks, such as the possessed shown with her back turned to the camera while the other characters approach warily (this happens a lot in this film), a climax filmed with night vision, and what I think of as the Edvard Munch face, that CGI altered visage of stretched features that is as overused as found footage. Pro tip for someone who does not watch a lot of horror: if, in a movie, a woman is standing facing a corner in a darkened room, wearing nothing but a nightgown, when she turns around her face will be a rictus of cartoon horror. There is nothing scary about this predictable mess anymore, and I wish filmmakers would stop doing it. Mirror scares, the single most overused trick in horror films, are more effective than this nonsense.

But, lest I pile on the criticisms too thickly, I have to point out that the two leads in the film, Larson and Ramsay, are excellent. The two are seasoned professionals, and they act circles around the young’uns of the cast. Ramsay’s performance is emotionally taut. She really does seem like a person barely hanging on, the care of her mother taking up all her mental and emotional resources. Meanwhile, Larson was given the tougher task. She had to be the icy queen bee of the Logan family, the vulnerable senior citizen with a deteriorating mind, and a supernatural evil. Sometimes she had to do all of this in the same scene. It’s rare to see characters so believable in low budget horror. Without these two ladies in the cast, I’m not sure this film would have been a success. Get past all the genre tropes and the missed opportunities, and a viewer will be rewarded by these two fine performances.