Starring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona
“I’m not interested in being exploited.” (Deborah, The Taking Of Deborah Logan)
It’s all well and good watching and writing about horror movies but there are some real-life horrors that are often far more terrifying than any creature that could be dreamed up by Hollywood.
A powerful example is Alzheimer’s disease, a horrendous condition that slowly eats away at the sufferer’s brain, initially inflicting short-term memory loss and ending with behavioural issues, an inability to recognise family members and ultimately early death.
This is a disease that can tear apart families and turn previously docile people into aggressive, sometimes violent shells of their former selves. As horrible as it is to say it, then, it’s a condition ripe for study in horror film.
It’s the central theme, at least initially, surrounding The Taking Of Deborah Logan, a found-footage style mockumentary about a film crew studying a woman’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and their discovery of something even worse.
Commencing shortly after Deborah’s diagnosis has been made, the film opens with a small group of medical students arriving at her house to introduce themselves to her and her daughter.
The pair have agreed to let the students stay with them and film Deborah’s deterioration in exchange for money to go towards her medical bills. Damn you, Obamacaaaaaaare.
At first Deborah’s condition is distressing but textbook. She begins forgetting important memories – for example, saying it’s been her dream to visit Germany then being informed by her daughter that she’d already been – and it’s clear she’s becoming frustrated as her mind starts attacking her spirit.
Then things start getting a little odd and, for want of a better word, non-Alzheimery. Cameras installed around the house by the students capture her waking up in the middle of the night, walking into the kitchen and somehow seemingly teleporting onto a table with no break in the footage.
She starts getting aggressive much earlier than she’s supposed to, threatening one of the crew with a knife and accusing him of stealing her shovel. Then, breaking out of the house at night, she’s found in the garden in her undies clawing at the dirt.
Deborah’s doctors inform her daughter that her behaviour is the result of the Alzheimer’s being far more aggressive than they expected, but she and the documentary crew have the feeling something else is going on. You know, what with her fucking teleporting and that.
To say any more would spoil what becomes a pretty odd plot, but safe to say this isn’t your straightforward Alzheimer’s case and the ‘taking’ in the title isn’t merely referring to the disease taking her mind as is initially implied.
What makes The Taking Of Deborah Logan so compelling is its understated performances. Found footage films often live or die by the believability of their stars and there are no hammy “what’s wrong with my motheeeerrrrr” moments or unconvincing crew squabbles to be found here.
By far the star of the show however is US soap actress Jill Larson playing the titular role of Deborah. She’s just perfect: your heart aches for her as you watch the initial interviews and she stubbornly tries to convince us (and herself) that nothing is wrong and she’s perfectly fine.
Perhaps telling is the fact that I watched it with my mum, who kept saying she felt terrible for Deborah, needing some convincing that it wasn’t actually a real documentary and she was just an actress.
Then, as Deborah’s ‘condition’ worsens she becomes genuinely creepy, with an array of angry glares and suspicious stares that give the impression she’d be all too happy to plunge a knife into the hearts that were previously breaking for her.
Ultimately though your enjoyment of the film will come down to your willingness to accept a bit of silliness. As the second act nears its end a revelation makes it clear that you’re going to have to start suspending your belief for the remainder of the film.
This is where audiences will be split. Those ready to accept the plot taking a more supernatural and fantastical route will remain on the edge of their seat until the credits roll, but those who had been enjoying the more psychological aspect of the horror up to this point may be disappointed by its abrupt abandonment of all realism.
By the time the ending comes around with a fairly ridiculous final set-piece that will either have you saying “ha, that’s fantastic” or “oh, just fuck off now”, you will find yourself firmly in one of these camps.
Personally, I loved its twist. Had the whole film been purely about Alzheimer’s there was really only one way it could conclude: a depressing ending in which Deborah’s violent streak eventually gave way to complete mental deterioration.
By adding a new revelation that shows all is not as it seems, it gives the film a new spark of life that carries it to an exciting conclusion.
The Taking Of Deborah Logan is a surprising little gem that conjures up Exorcist and Blair Witch vibes but very much settles into its own niche. I’ve deliberately not given away too much of the plot’s more fantastical elements (and be warned: the trailer below reveals a little more) because this is really a film that needs to be discovered rather than expected. And discover it you should.
The Taking Of Deborah Logan‘s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see which other films have made the grade.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
The Taking Of Deborah Logan is currently only available on DVD in the US. Americans can get it here, whereas Brits (with a region-free DVD player) can import it here.
It’s also available on US Netflix, however, so any Brits with access to that (find out how to get it here) can watch it there.
SHOW ME THE TRAILER: