I had to laugh at how effective some of these scares are. That’s a good laugh; a laughing despite peeing your pants, reveling in how much the Taking of Deborah Logan team went all in with certain scenes, knowingly layering Fright Trope upon Fright Trope for some scenes that are pure shock imagery, like that shot of the chick in the closet in the American Ring. Fantastic.
And due to this – and due to willfully creeping myself out by thinking about these scenes later on (they’re scary after the fact!), it makes me want to auto-five star the movie. Like a principle of the thing: You got me, Deborah. You got me.
But, fine, yes, alas, etcetera, we’ll take a step back: The Taking of Deborah Logan might be a god damned good take on the found footage genre, years after the scene has run out of steam for most, but it still hits some bumps along the way, most of those owing to that stylistic genre. Though it should be said that for each one of those hiccups, it corrects most of the major FF flaws, which doubly escalates it into the upper quality tier.
Mia and team are making a documentary for a PhD thesis regarding the effects of Alzheimer’s on not only the directly affected, but those close to them as well. This allows Mia access to the house of Deborah (Jill Larson) – the affected in this case – and her daughter, Sarah (Anne Ramsay), also providing us with our always-filming premise, as the doc team seek to capture the behavior of their subject at all times . There are some well-handled justifications along the way that ground the setting more than usual (funding for this doc will cover some treatment expenses and rent on the house, which Sarah is at risk of losing), and a smart cut to the intro to the doc which explains the symptoms of Alzheimer’s – such as hallucinations – before some dry and frightening facts about the way the brain just shuts down; the way the disease is explained (and some accompanying pictures) is frightening in and of itself. Soon enough, though, we’re off on our main venture of sudden shocks caught on (digital) tape and the litany of disbelief / explanations that follow, ready-set with the ‘the Alzheimer’s’ is causing this old lady to act crazy’ reasoning.
The Taking of Deborah Logan manages a few important points of distinction here: First and foremost, there’s no waiting around. While the nature of the creeps escalate, it’s not just an hour of bumps in the night: Shit gets real, real fast. Secondly, Larson is amazing in the role, fully committed to being the soft-spoken proper lady one minute and then skin-ripping banshee the next. Her performance is integral to the movie and its scares. And while the end sequence inevitably prompts the “why are they filming this?” question, the hour plus leading up to that point feels plausible, or at least is focused enough (both story-wise and camera-wise) to distract us from the question.
The narrative and characters are also intriguing, which is undeniably a plus. Often these things are unlikeable or unremarkable casts and we’re just waiting for the jumps and for someone to find a Bible with a creepy passage circled or something; the documentary crew are essentially millenials but tolerably so – Ramsay, meanwhile, bears the brunt of the screen time alongside Larson, and her plight and attempted nonchalant response is perfectly empathy-triggering. The explanation reveals are a bit rushed but the tradeoff is that they’re pretty fascinating, straying from the usual upside-down-cross stuff.
So: All leading up to that final 30 minutes or so. The ending packs some walloping shots that are not letdowns, but it’s also the sequence of the flick to succumb to the running-shaky-cam-screaming-in-the-dark trope; that ‘why are we filming’ question (attemptedly dodged by having the characters claim they need the camera’s light); and a pretty incredulous setting that’s such a stark contrast to the haunted house scares that it seems like a different movie. This is the flipside to the all-out rush that preceded things: The ante is upped, but the film still needs to make that 90 minute mark, so it starts to overplay its hand.
I wrap back around, though, to how awesome the scares are, enough so that I’d even be interested in watching the flick again – a definite rarity for found footage.
If you’re dead set against the genre, clever and frightening or not, The Taking of Deborah Logan will still provide enough fuel for your ire. But for those of us who don’t mind it, the film is not only a great example of its use, its a quality horror film, full stop, and proof that scary films can be loud and in your face and smart about it.