Left in Darkness (US - DVD R1)
Gabe takes a trip into the realms of the blessed, the damned, and the DTV...
Celia's (Monica Keena) mother died in childbirth, something she's felt guilty about her entire life. On the night of her 21st birthday, the anniversary of both her birth and her mother's death, Celia attends a frat party. This will mark her first birthday since the death of her grandfather, who raised her in light of her mother's untimely demise. Celia meets a nice boy at the party, who proceeds to drug and rape her. Even more unfortunately for Celia though, she ends up dying from an overdose of her attacker's date rape drug. Celia wakes up in the world between Heaven and Hell, and must defend herself against hordes of Soul Eaters – a race of ravenous otherworldly beings. Only her spirit guide, Donovan, can show her the way to the next life.
Based on its generic title and gimmick cover sleeve (it glows in the dark), I was prepared to not love Left in Darkness. The final film is better than I had anticipated, but only just better than average in the end, as it lacks any real surprises. The story itself is ambitious, and a welcome change from all the Asian based ghost stories I've been watching lately. Unfortunately, the story is perhaps too ambitious, especially considering the film's scant 87-minute runtime.
The budget constraints are actually gracefully handled, and director Steven Monroe (whom according to the DVD's features, started his career as a DP) makes the film look like at least 10 million bucks (I can't find the actual budget anywhere, but I'll estimate it around 2 million). Because of the plot's basic limitation, the visuals end up being the thing that makes the film worth recommending. The problem is that the direct to video vibe has been replaced with a made for TV one, and I can't help thinking that Left in Darkness would've made a better TV pilot than a feature film.
There are a lot of rules to the film's little universe, and coupled with the fact that Celia has to earn her way into heaven, I really think this would've made a decent basic cable drama. The film's horror aspects aren't all that horrifying, and are secondary to the made mythology, which could be built upon. The whole thing may've been a little too derivative compared to 'Girls vs. the Supernatural' shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but in the right hands it could work. Did I mention that the film was produced by Stephen J. Cannell, the uber-producer behind such hit series as 21 Jumpstreet, The A-Team, and The Commish (among others)? It seems that you can take the producer out of the TV, but you can't take the TV out of the producer.
Though I was very impressed with the film's ambition and look, it was lead Monica Keena's acting that really blew me away. I'd only seen the actress in Ronny Yu's ode de slasher Freddy VS. Jason (which I will unabashedly love until I die, despite its many short comings), and I was very unimpressed. Either she's improved over the last few years, or that character was just too thinly drawn to make memorable. I was a little weary about her lips though, which look like they may burst from what I'm guessing is a little too much collagen.
In the end, what we've got here is an unmemorable, but visually impressive timewaster, with a nice sense of ambition it really doesn't manage to live up to. It's an admirable minor flop that shows real promise from everyone involved. I probably won't find the need to ever watch it again, but admit I was wrong to judge it by its silly packaging.
The last time I reviewed a DTV Anchor Bay release (Ok, not technically DTV, but almost DTV) the film was Abominable, which is a title, not an adjective. Abominable looked good, but suffered from some contrast issues and edge enhancement, and I wasn't expecting much better from Left in Darkness.
Again, the DVD surprises me by producing a fine looking video transfer. The film uses a lot of stylized camera work, but manages a level of consistency not found often in such releases. Detail levels are very sharp with minimum edge enhancement, and very seldom is an element obscured if not on purpose. The colour scheme, which is pretty darn blue, is well produced, and highlights and burnouts are bright and beautiful.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is pretty big budget. Spooky sound effects galore bleed into all channels. The mixes most impressive feat is the subtle way the sounds of the frat house party can still be heard in the ghost realm. The film’s score is very ambitious for such a small film. Occasionally it verges on plagiarism, but it is always effective, and is very crisp and bass heavy on this track.
The discs features aren't all that special, but those who liked the film will probably enjoy them. Director Steven Monroe's co-commentary with the film's line producer is informative, and contains little dead air. The whole track is a bit on the self-congratulatory side, but never pompous. The unfortunate thing here is that neither participant is particularly enthralling to listen to. It's not their fault, it's just that some people have it and others don't.
The Making of Doc, entitled Inside the Darkness is little more than an EPK, but is a nice alternative for those of us who aren't interested in sitting through the long, and relatively uneventful commentary track. Again, there's a lot of back patting, but it's all in good fun. The features are completed by a two-minute cast and crew 21st Birthday recollection and series of Anchor Bay trailers.
Miles better than I'd assumed, Left in Darkness is a worthwhile little thriller, with a good look, and a good lead performance from Monica Keena. The whole thing would make a better television pilot than a DTV feature, but it earns a rental recommendation. The DVD has very impressive A/V presentation for such a small film, though it's a little light on special features. Oh, and to the folks at Anchor Bay: if you're going to spend the money on special packaging don't use barcode stickers with so much adhesive that removing them requires damaging the packaging.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 19th September 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Dirctor Commentary, "Inside the Darkness" Making of Doc, "My 21st Birthday", Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Monroe
Cast: Monica Keena, David Anders, Tim Thomerson
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 87 minutes
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