I’m not going to beat around the bush. Adam Robitel’s The Taking of Deborah Logan is one of the most terrifying horror films to meet our screens in the 21st century.
For the few who have been living under the bush that I didn’t bother beating around, the film follows a faux-documentary film crew who are filming a woman, Deborah Logan (Jill Larson), who has Alzheimer’s disease. The crew aim to gather footage on the effects that the illness has on the afflicted as well as those who care for them. Deborah’s affliction is a tragic one, evoking nothing but empathy from its intended horror-hardened audience. Soon Deborah is a shadow of herself, and something more sinister begins to take hold. The film crew along with Deborah’s daughter, Sarah, (Anne Ramsay) hurry to understand Deborah’s increasingly alarming behavior before it takes her over completely.
The scares are numerous throughout the course of The Taking of Deborah Logan. The small nuances of the film’s beginnings turn into Grade A frights by the final act. Horrible self-mutilation is involved. Shadows and apparitions appear out of focus. Windows and doors open and close by themselves. There are snakes. While these are all effectively frightening horror movie tropes, at the core of the film, the disease that is taking over Deborah is the true horror.
Adam Robitel and co-writer Gavin Heffernan combine cinematic scares along with the true horror of a very terrifying disease. Robitel mentions in the making-of featurette on the DVD release that to him there was “nothing scarier than Alzheimer’s disease.” I can not agree more with that statement.
To avoid complicated medical jargon; Alzheimer’s is literally the shrinkage of brain tissue that causes whatever function that part of the brain controls to disappear. Along with those bodily functions, the person’s memories also gradually disappear. People’s entire selves evaporate. The allegory of possession and Alzheimer’s may be fantastical, but it is not a far-fetched one. Alzheimer’s acts as a demon that comes into a person’s brain, eradicating all that they were, leaving behind a stranger within the person’s body. A person possessed by emptiness. A void where regions of their core personality and self were once stored.
This is the case in the film. Deborah experiences the many symptoms of Alzheimer’s. She forgets things, wanders aimlessly, zones out. When the film crew begin following Deborah and Sarah to document her progression into the disease, Deborah is at a turning point with the progression of the disease, her behavior degrading rapidly.
Of course, in The Taking of Deborah Logan the rapid onset of late-stage Alzheimer’s is a blend of possession and real-to-life symptoms affecting Deborah’s behavior. Yet, up until the third act, everything that Deborah does coincides with real symptoms of the disease. The horrifying acts that she commits against herself and others are within the scope of an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Insomnia. Frustration. Irritation. Violence. While they have a connection to an actual possession in the film, they are acts that are not far from reality when it comes to the disease.
Just like with any disease, the afflicted aren’t the only ones who experience the horror. A person with Alzheimer’s, especially in the later stages, requires full-time care. When we are introduced to Deborah and her daughter Sarah, Sarah doesn’t have to be around much with her mother. As the film progresses, and so does the disease/possession, Sarah sticks around a lot more. The effects that Deborah‘s disease has on Sarah become obvious as she’s seen drinking more, experiencing increased stress, fear and urgency. The fact that Sarah sticks around until the final heinous act shows the dedication and love that she had for her mother, even though the person whom her mother was has all but disappeared.
This brings about a quote that I wrote down from the PBS documentary, Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts, which I watched instantly after this most recent viewing of The Taking of Deborah Logan. In the documentary, a woman, Daisy, cares for her mother who has a very aggressive form of Alzheimer’s. She has cared for her from the beginning, and she encapsulated her experience with this quote: “I lost my mom five years ago which is the mom that had me. Alzheimer’s is my second mom.”
To drive the effects of Alzheimer’s home, Robitel and Heffernan present no happy ending for Deborah. This mirrors the effects of Alzheimer’s in real life. There is no cure. There are minimal medicines to help with the disease. Those medicines that are available are more for comfort; memory recall or mood-stabiliziation. There is no medication to stop or slow down the disease. It eventually shrinks the brain to the point where all bodily function is gone, including eating, drinking, and finally, breathing. The inevitable outcome of Alzheimer’s is death.
Other facts on Alzheimer’s that are scarier than any film could be? Per the Alzheimer’s Association, it is the #6 leading cause of death of Americans while being the #3 leading cause of death in the elderly. Between 2000 and 2017, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 145%, and kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. In 2019, Alzheimer’s care will cost the US $290 billion with forecasts for the year 2050 to be over $1 trillion.
The Taking of Deborah Logan is an incredibly effective scare, with very real horror at its core. Robitel and Heffernan created a film that definitely deserves to be seen for both of those reasons. (Third reason? Jill Larson’s portrayal of Deborah is utterly terrifying.)
Fiends! You can catch The Taking of Deborah Logan on Shudder, beginning Monday, September 30th. At this time, if you don’t own the DVD released by Millenium Entertainment in the US or the Blu-ray from other regions, Shudder will be the only place you can watch it!
Chat us up on our Twitter, Subreddit, Instagram, or at The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook about your thoughts on Deborah Logan. Check out the Alzheimer’s Association for more info on Alzheimer’s, and how you can donate or help.