“Monica Keena has big boobies.”
As unprofessional as it sounds, that’s the thought that kept running through my head as I watched Steven Monroe’s “Left in Darkness” (not to be confused with the “God is Great” Christian series “Left Behind”), a horror/cautionary tale about college binge drinking, date raping frat boys, and why you should always do whatever a Quija board tells you coz that’s what the movies have taught us. (Personally I learned this last lesson many years ago, during one fateful Halloween night… But I digress.)
Now where was I? Oh, right. Monica Keena, the star of “Left in Darkness”, has huge knockers. You can’t help but notice them. Half of the film’s running time either involves Keena running for her life, her generous cleavage bobbing to and fro and sideways, or she’s standing in front of the camera, chest heaving away. What makes Keena’s, ahem, assets more noticeable is that she is a small woman, with a short, stocky frame, so one can’t help but be unimpressed with everything else about her besides, well, you know. Seriously, folks, this is probably as close to softcore porn as many horror geeks out there will ever encounter.
Oh right, the movie.
Monica Keena stars as Celia, a tough-luck child (her parents are dead, her birthdays always suck) who grows up into a hot college student with, well, you know. On her 21st birthday, Celia and gal pal Justine (Jessica Stroup) heads out to a frat party, where she meets a handsome guy who promptly slips a date rape drug into her drink and proceeds to do what guys who uses date rape drugs do. Unfortunately for our little lass, she suffers more than just a semi-state of comatose during the rape, and has the unfortunate disposition of dying. She wakes up in the same frat house, but not the same frat house. Tim Thomerson, playing her long-dead grandfather, makes an appearance, but it only convinces Celia that she is, as the kids put it, royally screwed.
It’s up to Celia’s childhood imaginary friend Donovan (David Anders) to save her, but how can you trust someone who isn’t even supposed to be real? If you’re Celia, you run around and scream a lot as soul stealing demons try to eat you. But thankfully Donovan knows what’s going on, and informs Celia that the frat house is her “sanctuary”, and as long as she stays inside and doesn’t invite the ghouls in (ala “The Lost Boys”), then she is safe. Sort of. It appears Celia’s afterlife has a lifespan (no pun intended) of a few hours, which expires at exactly 2:00 a.m. (Who knew the afterlife ran on Pacific Standard Time?) What’s a girl endowed with a generous bosom to do?
“Left in Darkness” is directed by Steven R. Monroe, who last worked with an equally bountiful actress name Cerina Vincent in “It Waits”, a woods-based horror tale about a park ranger battling an ancient evil. “Left in Darkness” shares similarities with that other movie, including limited sets and a rather novel premise. The most intriguing part of “Left in Darkness” is its many rules in regards to the afterlife; though like the late ’80s hit “Ghost”, not a whole lot about these rules make sense, resulting in huge plot holes. Still, they’re quite inventive, and I enjoyed learning about them.
The film’s best moment has to be near the hour mark, when Celia’s rapist (and de facto murderer) joins her in the afterlife, and the two must team up in order to survive. You would think Celia might still be feeling a little tinge of, you know, hate for the guy, but not so. What follows is both perverse and comical, more so because Monica Keena plays Celia as someone who is teaming up with the guy who stuck gum under her shoes instead of the douche bag that raped and killed her. The other amusing thing to keep track of is how low Celia’s jeans keep sliding downward as she runs to and fro from demons. Can those jeans possibly go any lower? Yes, as it turns out.
Inevitably, one has to come to the unkind conclusion that leading lady Monica Keena (last seen fleeing Freddy and Jason in “Freddy vs. Jason”) simply doesn’t have the chops to carry a film, and besides looking a bit like an oft-scared Brittany Murphy, Keena ranges from amusingly overboard in her reactions to just unbelievably, well, unbelievable. Keena’s less than stellar performance is made even more noticeable because she’s working across David Anders, as Celia’s all-grown-up-now imaginary friend Donovan. Anders is, simply put, incredible in the role, reminding one of an American Paul Bettany in look and line delivery. I’m surprised Anders hasn’t done a whole lot with his career, because the man has oodles of talent, and effortlessly plays Donovan as at once helpful and trustworthy and deliciously malicious in his intentions.
The rest of the cast is mostly background baggage, as this is essentially a two-person play (Keena and Anders) set on a single stage. Long-time genre vet Tim Thomerson (“Trancers” remains a personal favorite) has a welcome cameo as Celia’s grandfather, and Chris Engen (“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”) is convincingly sleazy as Celia’s rapist/killer. The very beautiful Jessica Stroup (soon to be seen as “Hot Girl” in the Billy Bob Thornton comedy “School for Scoundrels”) is criminally underused, and I wouldn’t have mind seeing her swap places with Keena. I mean no offense to Keena, but her talents lie elsewhere, and she would look more comfortable in sidekick and “slutty girl in horror movie” roles.
There are no scares in “Left in Darkness” to speak off, and the “boo” moments are routine at best. One is liable to be intrigued by the makeup work on the demons instead of being scared by them. The film does do well with its limited sets and obviously small budget, and Monroe and his set designers squeeze as much as they can out of the frat house surroundings, turning it into a lively maze for the demons to chase Celia through.
Produced by the prolific Stephen J. Cannell, “Left in Darkness” joins “Demon Hunter” and “It Waits” as new releases from the producer’s new horror factory, as he seems intent on cranking out a title every year. “Darkness” ranks lower than those other two, but then again, it doesn’t have Cerina Vincent or Sean Patrick Flannery. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing David Anders again really soon. This guy is good.
Steven R. Monroe (director) / Philip Daay, Jane Whitney(screenplay)
CAST: Monica Keena …. Celia
David Anders …. Donovan
Tim Thomerson …. Joe
Chris Engen …. Doug
Tarah Paige …. Rachel
Jessica Stroup …. Justine