Netflix Hidden Gem: The Taking of Deborah Logan
Director: Adam Robitel
Genre: Found Footage Horror
Bad Hat Harry Productions
When looking for horror films to watch over Halloween weekend, I knew I’d find some indie gems hiding on Netflix. The Taking of Deborah Logan is a real sleeper— a film I’d never heard of and a seemingly average found footage piece. I went in with little knowledge and no expectations to speak of. While this film doesn’t do too much to reinvent or experiment with the found footage form, it uses its tropes sufficiently well, and somehow refashions those tropes (not to mention possession, haunting and exorcism-type tropes, as well) just enough to give us a formulaic but fun (and, at times, truly terrifying) experience.
The premise (and motivation for the found footage form) revolves around PhD student Mia’s thesis project on how Alzheimer’s has a physiological effect on the primary caregiver of the patient. The film starts as a pretty convincing documentary on the topic, utilizing home video footage from patient Deborah Logan’s somewhat younger years (which, of course, become important later as the mysteries unfold), as well as Mia’s voiceovers about the disease itself paired with scientific, computer-generated images of the human brain.
About halfway through though, things start to accelerate into full-blown horror territory as Deb’s behavior seems to be less and less due to her Alzheimer’s and more and more due to something paranormal and sinister. She rips and claws at and peels back pieces of her own flesh, sometimes when we’re least expecting it. And something as simple as doctors pulling back her hospital robe to reveal a grotesque and un-diagnosable skin infection on her back becomes gasp-worthy, somehow.
So, yes, the film goes through some of the familiar motions— from investigations into who is haunting and possessing Deborah, to the revelations those investigations yield (consisting of everything from snakes and young girls being sacrificed decades earlier). And there are the typical time stamped, night vision scenes that now permeate the found footage genre as a whole. But Robitel really builds suspense without even relying on the found footage form at all. If we were to completely ignore the found footage aspect of the film, in fact, this would still be a hugely successful horror film. And though the story seems traditional, it has enough clever twists and ensuing scares to keep you engrossed. I screamed and cringed more than once, and it takes a lot for me to say that. It shocked without resorting to too many empty jump scares, and things that do make you jump are then prolonged to glorious effect. For instance, when Deborah’s old phone switchboard rings in the middle of the night (but the phones and power are down, of course), we jump as our protagonists do. But the fear and terror do not subside there. The shrill, alarming sound continues, we see her naked body at the switchboard, and we hear her speaking not Latin but equally demonic sounding French, all while violently stabbing at one particular phone line outlet. And later, when a certain ritual is about to be attempted, the horror comes from high stakes as well as that seemingly tired snake motif, used here in an incredibly horrific and unique way.
The film maintains a sense of dread and mystery from start to finish and should really impress any horror fan. It may not epitomize any of the genre tropes it utilizes, and it may not be all that impressive as far as found footage goes. But, again, it does epitomize the idea of a hidden gem, and it succeeds at basically all the things it attempts— it’s simply a scary good time, hits all the right notes, and shouldn’t be scrolled past or excluded from your queue.