It’s not often that I sit up and take notice at the plot of a direct to video thriller. But one thing is certain, Left in Darkness does not traipse through the tired terror-tory that Producer Stephen J. Cannell and Director Steven R. Monroe delivered with their earlier release It Waits. The film is a solid, if not overly frightening look at one woman’s horrifying journey through the nightmare of death, delivering a fascinatingly original and ultimately satisfying look at the physics of the afterlife and the dark recesses of the unknown that haunt our fears.
Celia (Monica Keena) has had a tough life. On the eve of her 21st birthday, we discover that her mother passed away during her birth, her father, a drunk, left when she was only a baby, and her grandfather (Tim Thomerson) passed away just over a year ago. When she was younger, a mysterious force once saved her from being hit by a passing car, and tonight, as Celia and her friend Justine (Jessica Stroup) attend a frat party; it would seem that that same spirit is once again trying to save Celia’s life. Unfortunately, she fails to heed the warnings and soon finds herself drugged, raped and overdosing in the dirty bathroom of the fraternity. When Celia wakes, and discovers that she has not survived the night, a new battle will begin. With the help of her guardian angel (David Anders) Celia’s soul must now survive a perilous journey on her way to heaven or hell.
What sounds like a haughty task for a horror film, the struggle toward heaven and the acceptance of death, is handled with a great deal of class and a surprising amount of heart. If it were not struggle enough for Celia to accept that she has just been raped and murdered, she must also come to terms with the idea that her soul is the number one course on the menu for an onslaught of undead monsters, hell-bent on consuming her immortal life force.
Director Steven Monroe, who started his career as a Cameraman, really shows his visual flair on the film, something he failed to accomplish with the by-the-numbers monster mess that was It Waits. With this film, Monroe and cinematographer Matthew Heckerling show a mastery of darkness and shadow, creating an ambience of dread with little more than some incredibly effective mood lighting. Keena who has historically been sharp as a tack in her performances, is hampered here by what appears to be a bad case of Botox, which, due to its plasticized tendencies has rendered her unable to convey the necessary facial expressions to match her otherwise shining performance as Celia. It is a shame that something so trivial can distract so completely from her performance, however the inability to move your upper lip, while cowering in terror can not be seen as anything but. David Anders’ performance as Donavan is by and large the juiciest role, and Anders plays it with a near perfect mix of sympathy and apathy.
Low on gore and short on shocks, Left in Darkness might seem a more made for TV than your average horror film, but don’t let it’s deceptively slight terrors fool you. In terms of cerebral horror, fans of David Lynch should find, at least a few favorable moments in Monroe’s latest creation. Alias fans that’ve enjoyed Anders performance as Julian Sark on that show will be thrilled by his equally quizzical and mischievous performance here. The real letdown of the film is the rather wasteful employment of cult hero Tim Thomerson who only gets a few brief moments of dialogue before being set up in Make-up to terrorize Celia as a soul-sucking version of his grandfather character. I guess part of me always wants Thomerson to be the same loveable wisecracking anti-hero that he made so damn enjoyable in films like Trancers and Cherry 2000.
Regardless of the film’s shortcomings, Monroe delivers a final product that shows brief moments of genius behind the camera, a solid and well conceived screenplay and more flashes of a promising future for Anders. So, I’d say, for a direct to video genre film, who could ask for anything more – well…maybe a few more buckets of blood next time Mr. Monroe.