Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Totally Superfluous Movie Review: The Taking of Deborah Logan

Last year, during my horror movie binge, I watched a newish movie on Netflix, "The Taking of Deborah Logan." The movie had an interesting premise: a elderly woman with Alzheimer's becomes the subject of a young student's film project, but there is reason to believe that she is experiencing something far worse.

In fact, the poster immediately sets the stage that something very bad is going to happen... or has already happened.

The movie tries to make itself look like a documentary, similar to the Blair Witch Project. The group of filmmakers film themselves and behind the scenes because, well, they're filmmakers. They like cameras. Of course, it's obvious early on that the movie is fictional:

One, because of a recognizable actress in the role of Deborah's daughter.

Two, because the poster highlights the producers' other, fictional movies.

And three, because just like in Blair Witch, you reach a point where you begin to wonder why the characters continue to film or hold the camera, rather than drop and run, or at least put it down to argue with each other. The level of commitment to recording every moment is not completely believable, no matter how devoted the filmmakers are to their craft.

The movie packs lots of creepy scenes and a few legitimate scares.  The movie is well-paced, well-acted, and at times, truly terrifying. That's why it pains me to say I really didn't like it.

Or rather, the psychologist in me, with an awareness of the history of treatment of mental and neurological illness, didn't like it. I'm probably not giving away a huge spoiler when I say that Deborah is possessed by something evil. In fact, this becomes a suspicion very early on with some strong evidence to support it. The evidence simply gets stronger and scarier as the movie goes on.

For centuries, people with mental and neurological illnesses were accused of being possessed. They were exorcised, treated cruelly, and had holes drilled in their heads to "let the evil spirits out." Some with an awareness of what was happening to them may even have come to believe they were possessed. Though modern medicine has certainly moved past this point to recognize legitimate illness, there are still some nutjobs people who believe that illness is demonic possession. And even among people with more modern understanding of illness, many conditions are still treated as unimportant or something to be ashamed of.

This is why it really bothered me that this movie seemed to dismiss that history for cheap scares. I'm sure the filmmakers did not intend to suggest mental and neurological illnesses aren't "real." But there are many people who fail to learn from history - some are doomed to repeat it, some are doomed to make thoughtless mistakes that appear malicious. An extreme, recent example:

Overall, I'm afraid I can't give The Taking of Deborah Logan high marks, or a recommendation to my fellow horror movie lovers. There are many things to like about the movie. But the psychologist in me just can't get past this issue.

Thoughtfully yours,

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