Amidst a sea of found-footage horror movies, a subgenre that began with the 1980 cult horror Cannibal Holocaust and was popularized by the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, documentary-style found-footage movies all seem to blend together these days, rendering the vast majority of them completely and utterly forgettable. The Taking of Deborah Logan, a found-footage horror about an old woman who is possessed by a demonic force, seemed like it had the perfect formula to fade into complete obscurity only minutes after its initial release in 2014. And, in fact, it did fade into obscurity for quite a while, but not for the reasons you might think.
After an exceptionally poor test screening where the film earned a score of 37 out of 100 due to the fact that the film was largely unfinished at the time, The Taking of Deborah Logan was all but dead. Millennium Entertainment, the international film distributor, put very little effort into launching The Taking of Deborah Logan, and so the film never really had a chance to reach audiences. The director of the film, Adam Robitel, had pretty much chalked things up to a loss.
Then, in a stroke of luck for Robitel and everyone else behind The Taking of Deborah Logan, the film enjoyed a massive resurgence. Picked up by the digital streaming services Netflix and later Amazon Prime Video, The Taking of Deborah Logan began rising through the ranks of the horror genre, proving its critics from the test screening and from Millennium Entertainment wrong. Today, The Taking of Deborah Logan has a 91% on the Rotten Tomatoes critic-based Tomatometer, and Jill Larson is getting the recognition she deserves for her harrowing performance as Deborah Logan.
The Taking of Deborah Logan Synopsis
Mia, Gavin, and Luis are a team of filmmakers trying to make a documentary about Alzheimer’s disease for Mia’s senior thesis project. The team confers with Sarah Logan, who eventually agrees to let them document the day-to-day life of her mother Deborah, a prim-and-proper former switchboard operator who has fallen victim to Alzheimer’s.
As the film crew follows the everyday actions of Deborah Logan, she begins to exhibit increasingly strange behavior. At one point, in the middle of the night, she threatens Gavin with a knife, accusing him of stealing her spade. Only moments later, she rips off a large chunk of the skin on her neck. Afterward, Deborah is hospitalized, and this is where things get really gruesome. The audience is graced with the image of Deborah’s back covered in a scaly rash, followed by every wet detail of Deborah getting a spinal tap, and a scene where she rips the skin clean off her forearm to top it all off.
At this point, the characters are all still holding on to the idea that Deborah’s actions can be explained by the progression of her Alzheimer’s, despite the fact that several of her paintings include a dark figure in the distance growing closer and closer. However, when the film crew checks the footage from the surveillance cameras they set up and see that Deborah is levitating and making windows open without touching them, they start to suspect that some supernatural forces might be at play.
Things really start to spiral out of control when Deborah goes missing from her bedroom in the middle of the night, only to be found sitting in front of her switchboard in the attic completely naked, shouting demonic incantations and jamming the switches until she gets electrocuted. Deborah is taken to the hospital and the crew, after some investigation, discovers that she had been trying to dial a pediatrician named Henry Desjardins.
Henry Desjardins had murdered four girls some years ago in an attempt to complete a Monacan ritual that would grant him immortality (disclaimer: the Monacan Indian Nation has no such ritual). However, he failed to complete the ritual, as it required the blood of five girls. Desjardin had gone missing under mysterious circumstances. However, when Sarah asks Deborah if she knows anything about Desjardins, Deborah replies definitively that he’s dead, and then says the word “murder” in a rather spine-chilling way.
Sarah learns from their neighbor Harris, a life-long friend of Deborah, that Desjardins had planned to use Sarah as his fifth sacrifice when she was just a little girl. Deborah, however, had learned of his plan and killed Desjardins with a spade before he had a chance to get to Sarah. At the same time, Deborah is still in the hospital, trying to kidnap a young female cancer patient named Cara to no avail. It seems that Desjardins is possessing Deborah and trying to get her to carry out his fifth sacrifice so that he can be resurrected and enjoy eternal life.
Sarah, Mia, and Luis return to the house (Gavin jumped ship, and who could blame him?) and uncover the body of Henry Desjardins. They try unsuccessfully to burn it with light fluid, but a supernatural force blows them away. Black snakes start coming out of the bag where his body is held. It seems that Desjardin has some serious snake-related black magic, even in the afterlife.
As Sara, Mia, and Luis are at the house, Deborah finally succeeds in kidnapping Cara and takes her to the old mine in town. Deborah takes Cara deeper and deeper into the mine, presumably to perform the final rites of Desjardins’s immortality ritual. Mia and Sarah follow Deborah down the mine, even after she’s killed and injured several police officers, and find her trying to consume Cara whole in the manner of a snake. Sarah fires a bullet at her mother, who now appears to be a snake-human hybrid, to stop her from eating the little girl. Sarah then is finally able to successfully burn the body of Desjardins, which unbeknownst to the audience she had been carrying the whole time.
The final scenes of the film show Deborah being rolled away in a wheelchair. A news reporter says that she has been deemed unfit to stand trial for her kidnapping charges. The news report then cuts to Cara, who has recovered from cancer and is celebrating her 10th birthday. Cara tells the news reporter that she has a plan but that it’s a secret, and turns to the camera to give a rather sinister smile, implying that Desjardins’s plan was not a complete failure and that he now has possession over Cara.
The Taking of Deborah Logan Review and Analysis
Overall, The Taking of Deborah Logan was surprisingly unique and substantive for a film that occupies such a saturated subgenre. The characters in the film are well-developed and multi-dimensional. Mia’s grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, which explains why she has such a personal attachment to the situation and why she is willing to stick it out until the end, even amidst such danger and craziness. Sarah and Deborah Logan have a contentious relationship, but have been forced to deal with each other because of Deborah’s condition, no matter how painful it might be for the both of them.
Deborah is a very proud, traditional, and self-reliant woman. She has difficulty accepting the realities of her condition and often blames her forgetfulness on things like old age. Sarah is queer, to the dismay of her mother, and Deborah brings up Sarah’s sexual preference in a passive-aggressive way when their conversation becomes particularly heated. Deborah seems to hate the fact that her daughter has to care for her, or that anyone has to care for her. Sarah is emotionally exhausted from caring for her stubborn mother, and turns to heavy drinking to cope with the stress.
The early parts of this film paint a very realistic picture of how difficult it can be for those with mental illnesses to accept their conditions, as well as the emotional toll that it can take on a mentally ill person’s caregiver. Sarah’s strength is shown by her persistence and sense of filial duty, even for a mother with who she’s had a rocky relationship and who has never fully accepted her queerness.
As the film progresses, things start to get a little off the rails. Some parts of the plot are hard to follow, such as when Harris took a shotgun and shot the windows out of Gavin’s car. Is Harris part of the conspiracy to complete this Monacan ritual? Is Harris also possessed? That scene didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
The fact that Sarah and the film crew learn about Henry Desjardins and his plot from an online documentary seemed like a bit of a cop-out as well. The writers of the film probably could have figured out a more tasteful way to learn about Desjardins and his snake-related sacrifice rituals than to have the characters simply do an internet search.
All in all, The Taking of Deborah Logan was a solid horror movie, even in a time when found-footage is just about the most overdone subgenre out there. The commentaries on the experience of mental illness and the tension that can exist between queerness and antiquated values made the movie feel more real. If you like gruesome stuff that will make your skin crawl, this film definitely delivers. Deborah’s ripping her skin off, spitting snake venom at cops, and dislocating her jaw in order to swallow a little girl whole. It’s awesome. While the plot definitely had some holes and was difficult to follow at times, The Taking of Deborah Logan was a solid movie overall. Shout out to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for resurrecting it.