Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Director: Adam Robitel
Writer: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan
Producer: Bryan Singer, Jeff Rice
Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona, Anne Bedian, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Randell Haynes, David Hains, Lee Spencer
A documentary profile on an elderly Alzheimer’s patient uncovers a secret connection to sinister serial killings.
Whoever put up the grant money for medical student Mia Hu to make an Alzheimer’s documentary receives much more than bargained for when Mia coerces Sarah Logan and her elderly mother Deborah into participating. What starts as an earnest look inside one family’s struggle with dementia turns into an even more harrowing ordeal as Deborah grows closer to unlocking a memory that might be better off forgotten.
“The Taking of Deborah Logan” double dips into the bottomless abyss of heavily-used horror ideas and comes up with “found footage” first-person and supernatural spirit possession as a two-tiered template for tired terror. Or it would be under different circumstances of less creative stewardship. Instead, director Adam Robitel and co-writer Gavin Heffernan douse their diving board in a quality cast, an imaginative story, and high caliber creeps to concoct an original take on both tropes.
Before weaving in serpent symbology, serial killings, and a ghastly twist, “The Taking of Deborah Logan” kicks off under the pretense of examining something that is a different kind of frightening. Alzheimer’s has a tendency to spread its disease in myriad ways that affect more than just the afflicted. And as Deborah’s descent into dementia moves from gradual to rapid, put-upon daughter Sarah finds that she doesn’t need a reminder to visit a bottle in between each hospital stay.
Jill Larson as Deborah and Anne Ramsay as Sarah could not be a more perfectly humming battery. Daily trials facing the Logan ladies are accurately captured in relatable performances as characters who feel genuinely “lived in.” The way their relationship is played and staged sets up mother and daughter as believable people whose connection existed before the camera turned on and persists when it is off.
Something else the production does to sell its setting is to toss out plenty of quick setups illustrating the Logans’ travails. Deborah visits a plant nursery, fumbles with an umbrella, paints in her studio, and receives a sponge bath. Sarah calls a friend, drinks on a porch swing, and has her blood pressure taken. “The Taking” isn’t always furthering its story, but it is consistently focused on advancing its characterizations and furthering the illusion of being a true in-depth exposé on Deborah and her disease. Many movies don’t take this kind of time or put in this kind of consideration to give their framework such authenticity.
Eventually, it becomes clear that Deborah’s increasingly maddening outbursts may have less to do with Alzheimer’s and more to do with a twisted secret in her past. Specifics would be spoilers, but it suffices to say that the script puts an intriguing mystery behind its paranormal possession tale. This is not your average devilish demon wreaking hellish havoc while looking for a human host cliché. A clever origin story accompanies Deborah’s mania and the supporting players in her life are woven into its fabric very well.
One item to note is that snake-related mythology plays an important role. Anyone fearful of slithering shapes will have double the reasons to find the film’s imagery terrifying and its climactic scene uniquely disturbing.
Something else deserving a mention is how the film’s characters are written to behave with rational thought. When inexplicable events and increasingly deadly circumstances reach an intolerable point, one member of the documentary-making trio says enough is enough and abruptly exits, never to be seen again. Common sense is hard to come by in horror films, especially in “found footage.” Seeing someone hit the eject button for once is so refreshing that you mentally cheer the smart decision, even if the character is a bit of an ass.
Given all the intelligent behavior everyone generally exhibits, it is nearly comedic how routinely Deborah disappears during the night from both her bed at home and her bed at the hospital. Yet no matter how often it happens, or how life-threatening her behavior becomes (for others as well as for her), no one ever thinks to put someone in the room with her or monitor her door to finally stop the supernatural somnambulism.
Now I’m nitpicking. Above all, the film exhibits an exceptional level of quality in most respects. With an above par screenplay, acting, and production values, “The Taking of Deborah Logan” is just different enough as “found footage” and just different enough as a demonic possession thriller to carve a memorable place for itself inside both subgenres.
Review Score: 85