I’ll be honest. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) had been on my to-watch list for a long time, but I was afraid to watch it.
Why? As far as horror movies go, it doesn’t have a notorious reputation like Martyrs or A Serbian Film. At first it seems like your typical found-footage-demonic-possession horror film, but unlike other found-footage-demonic-possession movies, The Taking exploits our fears of growing old and losing our independence. More to the point, the movie uses a character’s struggle with Alzheimer’s to propel the viewer into the horror of losing one’s mind.
From the start, I knew that this film would be a challenge, since my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s a little while ago (on Mother’s Day, no less). While her struggle was nowhere close to struggle in the movie, it was excruciating to watch her slip away. I had a lot of unresolved sadness and guilt surrounding her last years and chose to avoid those emotions. The day would come where I would need to confront those feelings. I owed my grandmother that much. I knew this film would do exactly that. I didn’t know if I was ready. I was afraid.
But you know what? The whole point of my blog here is to explore how intentionally confronting our fears is not only good for us but necessary. And this past weekend, I summoned courage from two glasses of wine and fired up Netflix.
On the whole, I’m glad I did it because, ultimately, it was a cathartic experience for me. I was scared and uncomfortable and it hit close to home. And I think I am better for it.
Although, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that impressed by the film.
The Taking opens with the introduction of Deborah Logan, an aging woman suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s. She was once an extremely capable person—after her husband died unexpectedly, Deborah started a successful telephone switchboard service and raised her daughter alone. Now her life is coming apart at the seams, despite her best efforts to retain control. Her daughter, Sarah, does her best to be a doting and thoughtful caregiver, but she’s way out of her depth and being her mother’s caregiver is taking an emotional toil. On top of everything, they are in danger of defaulting on their mortgage and losing their house. So Sarah convinces a reluctant Deborah to allow a documentary team to stay in the home. The team hopes to study not only how Deborah disease progresses but how the progression impacts Sarah as caregiver.
During the first third of the movie, the team watches Deborah struggle with her daily routine. She is forgetful of daily matters and can’t remember major life events. She has a habit of escaping her room and wandering around the house at night. She gets very frustrated when she thinks people are lying to her. Then the strange things begin to happen. The cameras capture her inexplicably leaping from the floor onto the kitchen counter, and no one can figure out how she did it. During the middle of the night, she digs up a seemingly random patch of dirt and begins to stab it with a spade. She attacks members of the team. And so much more.
The team eventually realizes that the disease has left Deborah open to hostile influences. And those influences belong to a heinous figure from her past. Deborah’s actions are not hers. Her words are not hers. As her Alzheimer’s worsens, Deborah transforms from the mild-mannered, gracious yet self-possessed older woman into a withered, snarling wraith. She has been possessed. It’s terrifying to watch her descent, especially if you’ve seen the later stages of Alzheimer’s firsthand.
And *SPOILERS* the person possessing her was a local physician, Dr. Desjardins, who disappeared decades ago. Why? Well, the team finds out that he 1) was dying, and 2) decided to execute an ancient Monacan immortality ritual involving killing and cannibalizing five young girls who 3) had just begun their menses, but 4) the fifth victim would have been Deborah’s daughter, so 5) Deborah killed Desjardins and buried him in her garden. And now he’s trying to recomplete the ritual by taking advantage of Deborah’s health to possess her.
Does that seem like a lot of story? Like a ton of details that you might need to unpack? That’s because it is. And this chunk of important information is communicated solely through hurried exposition in the middle of the film, which was clearly meant to be some mind-blowing twist but instead bogged the movie down. Such is the nature of the found-footage film, where exposition is a necessary evil, but here it really hurt the movie’s potential. Up until this point, I was on board with this movie. But when the “twist” was revealed, it felt…disjointed? Disconnected? Underwhelming?
It was too much and not enough, not because of the serial-killer-from-beyond-the-grave perpetrator. I just don’t really think the film needed all of that detail. Or if the filmmakers really wanted to keep this plot point, they should have developed it more. The idea wasn’t bad. I’d watch a movie about a dying man who begins to sacrifice young girls in a desperate bid to complete a terrible spell that will safe him from death, only to be thwarted before the spell can be completed and be trapped between life and death. That sounds intriguing, and if that had been its own movie, who knows?
I mean, if you tell me that a badass Deborah killed a demented, immortality-obsessed serial killer by stabbing him with her gardening spade, I would like to see it. That would have been awesome and it would have connected these two characters, thereby bringing cohesion to the film. Even working within the confines of the found-footage conceit, I refuse to believe there weren’t better ways to develop this conflict between these characters.
And because it wasn’t developed, the idea seemed hollow, contrived merely to set up a truly shocking scene in the climax. There was no thematic purpose to having a killer with such a complicated M.O. It diluted the solid ground the film established early on and the payoff wasn’t enough (as horrifying as that scene was).
The second and third parts of the movie do give us some real scares and gross out moments, but it never lives up to the unsettling first act. A large part of that comes from the out-of-control shaky cam in the climatic scene. It all sounded very scary, and I could tell the actresses were working really hard, but I couldn’t see a whole lot.
Add to that an unsatisfyingly abrupt ending that resolved nothing, and I’m still disappointed.
Undoubtedly, the entertainment value of The Taking of Deborah Logan, as far as jump scares, body horror, and creepy camera angles, is worth a Netflix viewing. The hospital scenes in the last half were very creepy and gross and that was fun. I enjoyed the acting, particularly from Jill Larson in the titular role. Also, I want to personally thank the film for a) letting the camera guys by characters and b) letting one of them peace out when shit gets freaking, because I cannot stand it when terrified characters don’t act honestly. On the whole though, I feel disappointed because the film tried to be something more and failed on execution.
As for the bigger picture, I’m glad I watched this movie, flawed though it was. It was a cathartic experience. Sometimes, it’s important to think of events as they felt, not just how they happened. Sometimes, the straight truth is not powerful enough. My whole family was afraid for her and afraid of her, her frustration, her anger. My grandmother was not possessed, but I felt more and more like she was a stranger. I always felt guilty about feeling like she was not my grandmother, as if I was insulting her memory. And if I was insulting her memory, then surely I was insulting our who family. I was insulting my grandfather, who tried to care for her until he couldn’t. I was insulting my mother and aunt, who handled all her affairs, made difficult decisions, and ensured she had the best care when it became clear professional help was necessary.
Seeing these emotions play out on screen, dressed up in this story, made me feel a little less guilty. Watching those around Deborah grapple with uncontrollable forces made me feel like my guilt was a natural byproduct of this awful disease. It didn’t mean I didn’t love my grandmother. It just meant that the terrible situation affected my family and I.
I cannot fully express how comforting it was to learn that someone else had felt the same.
(To donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, click here.)