Anchor Bay // 2006 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 20th, 2006
Somewhere between Heaven and Hell, the ultimate evil waits to feed.
Kind of like What Dreams May Come...just with humongous cleavage.
Celia (Monica Keena, Freddy vs. Jason) has just turned 21, but it's a bittersweet time. Yeah, she can now legally get bombed out of her head, but birthdays carry a heart wrenching meaning, as her mom died giving birth to her. She has always beaten herself up with guilt about that event, and her family fell apart around her. Dad became a drunk, leaving Celia's grandparents to raise her. But for the big 2-1, Celia is hoping to put some of the anguish behind her, when she and her best friend head for a college frat party.
Unfortunately, her life doesn't get any better, when a frat jerk drugs and rapes her. When Celia comes to, it's in a different plane of existence -- she's, gulp, dead!!! Trapped between Heaven and Hell, navigating Limbo and the hordes of zombie-like "Soul Eaters," Celia relies only on strange man named Donovan (David Anders) as her guide, though his role in Celia's eternity is not known.
Interesting concept, but irritatingly executed, Left in Darkness is essentially a real-time chase movie, with New Age claptrap (e.g. Heaven is a beach somewhere on the New England coast). While it movies along at a fast clip, and keeps the action flowing, the film eventually spins its wheels in the muck of an obvious mystery and repetitive set-pieces.
There are two elements that keep the film engaging: 1) the question of Donovan's allegiances and 2) the ticking clock of Celia's afterlife. The problem is these aspects do not work to much effect. For #1, there is never really any big shocker when Donovan's intentions are revealed, as Anders plays him in a way that tips his hand. The real juice is wagered on the #2, as Celia has only a few hours in her "sanctuary" (the sphere where she is protected from the Soul Eaters) to bind her soul to her body and make it to Heaven where her mom waits on a reef. That's the meat of the storyline's propulsion, and, ultimately, the yield is hampered by way too much screaming and freaking out.
That's probably what annoyed me the most -- the incessant carrying on. I doubt that I'd be capable of strategic problem solving and conflict resolution if I had just found out I was raped and murdered, trapped in Limbo and menaced by zombies that want to eat my face, but I hope wouldn't spend most of my time bitching about it. Keena probably does what she was instructed to, but it doesn't make her performance any less grating. I can't recall the last film I saw where the lead spent the majority of the runtime screaming her head off. (The filmmakers did clad her in a low-cut sweater and created multiple scenes where she has to lean over to distract from the bellowing.)
There is a touch of zombie action thrown into the proceedings and that mixes that action up a bit. Yeah, they're called "Soul Eaters" but they look like zombies, have pointy fingernails like zombies and eat human flesh like zombies. These scenes are well-executed and constitute the most exciting portions of the film.
Left in Darkness wants to be a horror film, but it comes across as more an experimental bit of "supernatural thriller." Gore is limited to a spray of blood from an unseen zombie massacre and there is the occasional Soul Eater jump scene, leaving the rest of the onscreen action coming from running, shouting, overwrought dialogue exchanges between Donovan and Celia and some afterlife hokum.
The film is populated by several color schemes, signifying the different realms of reality; the bulk of Left in Darkness occurs in Limbo, and these sequences are brightened and washed-out. That's stylistic of course; the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fine. A choice of 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 stereo accompany. Special features give you a passable 13-minute making-of documentary, lively commentary with director Steven Monroe and line producer John Duffy and a dopey feature where the cast and crew talk about their 21st birthdays.
There some interesting bits and the zombie action is well done, but the overall effect of watching Left in Darkness is not unlike having someone shine a flashlight in your eyes and screaming.
Head for the light!
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director and Line Producer Commentary
* "In the Darkness" Making-of Documentary
* "My 21st Birthday" Featurette