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Saturday, January 11, 2014

LEFT IN DARKNESS -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at Bumscorner in 2006.)

Celia's mother died giving birth to her, so she doesn't exactly celebrate birthdays. When her milestone 21st rolls around, her friend Justine convinces her to attend a frat party. "C'mon, your birthday isn't cursed," she assures her. Suuure it isn't. Celia doesn't know it yet, but she's about to enter a nightmare world in which she may be eternally--here it comes--LEFT IN DARKNESS (2006).

I didn't know what to expect when I started watching this, so my first impression after a few minutes was "I'm not going to like this movie." The party scenes are harsh and loud, filled with shallow people I wouldn't want to be around and obnoxiously shot and edited.

Then it dawned on me that they were supposed to have this effect--this is one of those parties you have to be drunk, stoned, and stupid to enjoy.

Celia isn't having a very good time, especially after some kids playing with a Ouija board come up with the message "GO HOME CELIA." But then she meets Doug (Chris Engen), a handsome, charming young fellow who seems really nice. He gives her a tour of the frat house which winds up in an old wine cellar.

But when she begins to feel woozy, it dawns on her that she's been drugged. She passes out, then comes to just long enough to find Doug on top of her, humping away, and hears a voice say, "Hey, dude--I think she's'!" Happy 21st birthday...

Some time later Celia wakes up on the floor of a shower stall in a dingy bathroom. She groggily gets to her feet and goes to the door, but it won't open. When she turns around, she sees something rather startling--her own dead body, lying in the shower stall.

This is where LEFT IN DARKNESS suddenly takes a sharp turn into "Twilight Zone" territory and finally begins to reveal itself as an intriguing and very well-made supernatural thriller.

When Celia makes her way into the rest of the house, she finds it empty, although distant music can still be heard. She runs outside and comes face-to-face with her dear, departed Grandpa (Tim Thomerson), who died a year earlier after having raised her since birth. How wonderful! That is, until he turns into a grotesque, slavering monster and starts coming after her.

She runs back into the house, where she meets Donovan (David Anders), whom she remembers from childhood as her mysterious "guardian angel." He explains that she's dead, and that creatures called "soul eaters" are after her. They require a steady diet of fresh souls to stay out of Hell, and once they've eaten your soul, they can take on your appearance, as in the case of good ol' Grandpa.

But for the next two hours, Celia will be protected by a heavenly light that the soul eaters can't enter. And if she can locate "the source", which is somewhere inside the house, it will take her to Heaven. If not, she will eventually become a soul-eater Scooby-snack and end up in the bad place for eternity.

This isn't your usual low-budget horror flick made by people who just want to stick something together to make a buck. It looks great--the camerawork, lighting, and set design are excellent, as is the score by Corey A. Jackson--and Steven Monroe (I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake, 12 DISASTERS) is a skilled director working with a screenplay that is full of imaginative ideas.

The story keeps getting more interesting as it goes along, introducing new elements such as Celia's ability to observe the events of the "real" world in mirrors--which is where she sees one of Doug's creepy friends trying to get Justine to drink some beer spiked with the same stuff that killed her earlier. Celia also discovers that she can now manipulate the Ouija board and send messages to the living--one of the perks of being dead.

But her two hours are almost up, and suspense mounts as she tries to find the source while her protective light begins to dim and the soul eaters break into the house. Donovan tells her that her only salvation is to enter the old wine cellar, which now appears as the most dark and forboding room in the entire house. But can she trust him?

This is the sort of story that could've turned out pretty bad in less competent hands, but the talents behind LEFT IN DARKNESS keep it on track all the way. The cast is particularly good, especially Monica Keena (FREDDY VS. JASON) as Celia. She doesn't make much of an impression at first, but as soon as the story moves into the spirit realm, she's awesome.

David Anders plays Donovan with a great deal of subtlety and is eerily effective where a lesser actor might have gone over the top--you're never really sure what Donovan's thinking or what his true motives may be. And Tim Thomerson, of course, is the gift that just keeps on giving. Warm and comforting as Grandpa, then terrifying when revealed to be a soul eater, Tim moves from one extreme to the other with ease.

Surprisingly, as revealed in the highly entertaining commentary track which features director Monroe and line producer John Duffy, this is the first film in which Tim ever had to wear extensive makeup, and he was less than thrilled by the process.

I wasn't expecting a great movie when I popped this into the DVD player, but for a straight-to-video chiller, LEFT IN DARKNESS comes close enough to make me glad I did. I'll definitely be revisiting this one from time to time in the future.

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