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LEFT IN DARKNESS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Monica Keena, David Anders, Tim Thomerson
Director:  Steven R. Monroe
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  September 19, 2006

“GO HOME CELIA.”

Film ***1/2

I remember reading The Screwtape Letters by the great author and theologian C. S. Lewis, in which he surmised the ultimate reason for why devils want our souls:  to feed on them.  I don’t know if the writers or director of Lost in Darkness have read Lewis’ work, but they’ve managed to bring what was essentially a piece of psychological reasoning to vivid, terrifying life.

It stars Monica Keena, the loveliest of all modern day scream queens, as Celia.  We first see her in flashback form, as a child, where we learn that her mother died giving birth to her, and as such, she seems to believe her birthdays are cursed. 

Now that her 21st birthday has arrived, she goes with a friend to a frat party to try and forget her troubles, but they’re only just beginning.  A punk slips her a date rate drug which kills her.  End of story?  For Celia, it’s an awakening into a terrifying new realm:  somewhere between life and death, and somewhere between heaven and hell.

She can hear the party, but can no longer see it.  She is surrounded by a strange white light.  And just outside the edge of the light are crazed creatures who are rabid to devour what’s left of her.  Even the spirit of her departed grandfather (Thomerson) isn’t quite what he appears to be.

Arriving on the scene to explain it all is Donovan (Anders).  He’s a spirit who’s been with Celia all her life, and has served as a kind of guardian angel to her (we get our first glimpse of his presence early on in the flashback).  He informs Celia that the light surrounding her is a sanctuary, but it will only last a couple of hours, and after that, those soul-eating creatures will be able to get their claws on her.

In order to navigate her way through the surreal and nightmarish world, Celia will have to trust things she can’t possibly believe and find the strength in death she never knew she had in life.  I could go further, but I don’t want to delve into the film’s mysteries and surprises…not to mention its scares.

Director Steven R. Monroe took a relatively small budget and delivered a scare picture the old fashioned way:  instead of going for the CGI effects, he created all his fears in-camera, with terrific lighting, make-up and editing.  I didn’t even really realize it until after the film was over, but I instinctively responded to it.  I’ve seen far too many computer-generated frights that frankly don’t scare me.  Monroe’s approach makes the horror seem a little more solid and tangible despite its other-worldly nature.

I’ve been a fan of the lovely and talented Monica Keena ever since Freddy vs. Jason.  To me, she’s the new millennium’s Jamie Lee Curtis; not only in her ability to effectively anchor a horror movie for her audience, but in that she has the talent and potential to eventually go on to become a major star and bankable big-name actress as well.  Her ordeal as Celia must have been physically and emotionally exhausting, but she never fails to deliver all the terror, sadness, strength, vulnerability and humanity of a character lost somewhere between real and unreal, between death and life.

Monroe’s film is effective, imaginative and frightening.  As my humanities professor once said, it’s not so much death that scares us as the idea of non-existence.  Celia comes to learn that’s the real fear facing her as well.  That’s the heart of the film:  it’s not her life she’s fighting for here.

Video ***1/2

Anchor Bay remains the horror fan’s best friend with their terrific anamorphic transfers.  Left in Darkness is driven by expressive and important-to-the-narrative lighting schemes that result in extreme visual looks for the picture, and this DVD presentation delivers it all beautifully.  Colors are vivid and detail level strong, even when elevated to non-natural appearances. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is effective in conveying Monroe’s nightmarish world between realms of existence.  The dynamic range is strong, and the use of the surround channels help create the sense of atmosphere and tension.

Features **

The disc contains a decent full length commentary from director Monroe and line producer John Duffy, plus some trailers, a making-of documentary, and a brief recollection from the cast and crew about their own 21st birthdays.  Plus, the outer box glows in the dark...cool!

Summary:

Left in Darkness is a real treat for the serious horror fan:  a low budget film that rises above monetary conditions to deliver an effective, imaginative and truly unsettling experience.  Steven R. Monroe crafted what too many directors with big bankrolls fail to do, and Monica Keena proves once again that there is no horror movie protagonist more talented or lovely.  Recommended.

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