Let’s not mince words —Alzheimer’s is an absolute motherfucker, and if you or someone you know and/or love has come down with it, you don’t need me to say much more about it than that. On the off chance that it doesn’t scare the living shit out of you, though, let me just get up on my high horse for a minute and say that it sure as hell should. This disease eats away your cognitive functioning until there’s pretty much nothing left of you but a withered, hollow shell, and then — after first stripping away your memories, your personality, your reasoning ability, and more or less all of your consciousness in a slow, sadistic, painful fashion — it finally heaps its last indignity upon you by not letting you remember to swallow or breathe.
I wouldn’t wish this dread disease on anyone — shit, I even felt sorry for Reagan when I heard he had it — and yet there’s nothing you can do about it : if you’re gonna get it, you’re gonna get it. End of story. Sound grim? Of course it does. That’s because it is.
A realistic Alzheimer’s documentary is far scarier than any horror flick probably ever could be, but given how terrifying an illness it is in and of itself, it’s kind of amazing that no budding young horror auteur has thought to focus his or her film on someone suffering from it. That is, until this year, when director and co-writer (along with Gavin Heffernan) Adam Robitel let loose upon the world THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as Netflix instant streaming, which is how I caught it), and I gotta say, of all the films I’ve watched this month to “put me in the mood” for Halloween, this was far and away the best of the bunch.
Released under the auspices of Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions (with Singer himself serving as one of the film’s producers), Robitel’s modestly-budgeted little opus is, yes, another “found footage” flick, but one that stands head and shoulders above most of its brethren due to strong performances, a compelling story, some very slick plot twists, high-grade production values, and some spine-tingling special effects. It’s not too often I make a pronouncement this unequivocal, but — if you like horror movies, you’re gonna like this. A lot.
On we go with the set-up : film (or maybe it’s medical, it’s hard to tell) student Mia Medina (Michelle Ang) has descended upon a small Virginia town with her two-person crew (played by Brett Gentile and Jeremy DeCarlos) to film the deteriorating condition of the titular Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) for a documentary project. Ms. Logan, a prim and proper southern lady, and her care-taker daughter, Sarah (Anne Ramsay) are at first leery about participating, but eventually consent because they “need the money” (uhhhmmm — I wasn’t aware that college kids usually had any to offer) to keep their home. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there’s a lot more to Deborah’s condition than “just” Alzheimer’s, though, and that somehow her former job as a telephone switchboard operator, the overbearing presence of way-too-concerned next door neighbor Harris (Ryan Cutrona), and the disappearance of a notorious local serial killer years ago all tie into whatever is afflicting our hapless title character now. I won’t give anything more away than that, sorry, because you really should just see this flick for yourself.
The unquestioned star of the show here is Larson, who absolutely deserves strong Oscar consideration (hell, give her Best Actress right now, I say), for her turn as Deborah. The mental and physical changes she undergoes are both amazing and harrowing to witness, and while I’m ready to give her make-up people plenty of credit for their part in that, as well, the simple fact is that you can’t just look 10, 20, even 30 years older as the film progresses in order for a role this challenging to be effective — you have to act it, too, and boy does she ever. My hat is absolutely off to her — with loads of admiration — for the work she’s done here.
The other performances are all uniformly solid, as well, and if it wasn’t for the ever-present genre tropes of off-screen narration, night-vision camera work, and the like, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you were watching a “mockumentary” -style horror at all, so polished and professional is the overall effort here — and it’s all done in service of a crackerjack script that pretty much knows exactly when, where, and how to keep upping the ante at all times.
There are a few nagging little details sprinkled throughout that prevent me from flatly declaring THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN to be a modern horror masterpiece (it gives away its hand a bit bit early in terms of some of its “shock revelations,” for instance, and plays up a bog-standard “demonic possession” angle for awhile before, thankfully, proving to be something kinda related, but much more frightening), but it sure comes close. Alzheimer’s is scary enough on its own — but I’ll have to be pretty damn far into its final stages before I forget about this amazingly effective, bone-chilling film.
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