Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Victoria Maurette, Javier De la Vega, Andres Bagg, Janet Barr, Mariana Seligmann
Directed by Albert Pyun
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
We’ve all heard the phrase “something got lost in translation” numerous times, and a bit of that scenario affects Albert Pyun’s new supernatural western Left for Dead. Shot in Argentina with a predominately Spanish-speaking cast and crew, the film tells the tale of star-crossed lovers Clementine Templeton (Maurette) and Blake Sentenza (De la Vega), whose lives have intersected with the ghost of Mobius Lockhardt (Bagg), a former preacher out for vengeance against a group of prostitutes who slaughtered his wife and everyone else in the town of Amnesty 15 years prior. In his grief, Mobius made a deal with the devil granting him eternal life, and his demonic spirit kills just about anyone who dares set foot in Amnesty’s cemetery.
It’s difficult to provide much of a synopsis of Left for Dead without giving away the surprises it reveals along the way, but here’s a little taste. Blake has sought refuge in Amnesty after being accused of raping a young woman who’s now pregnant (Seligmann). Hot on his trail are a couple of bounty hunters hired by a group of female followers of Mary Black (Barr), one of whom is the pregnant girl. They’ve heard the story of Mobius and are none too anxious to enter the cemetery, but of course greed and pride overcome fear. Mobius, however, feels protective of their quarry and makes quick work of the men, causing Mother Mary and her crew to undertake finding Blake themselves. But they’re not alone in their quest. Clementine and Blake have a history together that’s not made clear to the audience until later in the film, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of this rape business and exact some revenge of her own if need be.
In his commentary for Left for Dead, director Pyun acknowledges his inspiration for the film is the good old Spaghetti Western so many of us grew up watching and loving, and Maurette is a respectable feminine version of Clint Eastwood — tough, no-nonsense, and out for blood from those who betrayed her. But while I watched, my mind wandered to another Eastwood film, The Beguiled (1971), in which a group of Southern women turned the tables on a smooth-talking wounded Union soldier who romanced them one-by-one. It was one of the first female empowerment type movies I’d ever seen, and I was blown away.
The ladies of Left for Dead aren’t quite the same caliber as those in Beguiled, but it was still a treat to see them kicking butt and taking names like men typically do in a story of this type. As mentioned, Maurette does a satisfactory job in the role of Clem, and Bagg makes for a fantastic Mobius — he’s smolderingly handsome with a haunted look in his eyes. “The Spanish Sisto” I called him during my viewing of Left for Dead. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is hit or miss, and I blame that on the “translation” problems I brought up in the beginning of this review, especially where De la Vega is concerned. His dialogue alternates between English and Spanish, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; in fact, it serves to heighten the rather psychedelic nature of the film, but it is distracting to have English subtitles appear during a few of the scenes in which he’s speaking in English. (Maybe the person doing the subtitling hit Mother Mary’s pipe one too many times while working!)
The script is a bit of a mess with several cringe-inducing moments such as the over-usage of the word “whore” (you could have a fun drinking or smoking game with it), but as Pyun explains, it was a first-time effort by screenwriter Chad Leslie, who developed it as his college thesis. So I can’t be overly critical as there are plenty of really original ideas in there — they just didn’t translate 100% to the screen — and I’m anxious to see what Leslie comes up with next. Also, the shoot was so fast and dirty that had he had more time and money, Pyun would have no doubt been able to correct a number of the problems.
But truly, the stars of Left for Dead are Pyun and his technical team: cinematographer Alejandro Millán, cameramen Daniel De la Vega and Guillermo Ciampichini, and editor Ken Morrisey. The film is beautiful to look at and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. While Pyun’s style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I wholeheartedly appreciate his experimentation and willingness to take risks. There’s a lot of freeze-frame, zoom-in, and color-drenching in Left for Dead that gives it a distinct look and feel. Again, it won’t appeal to the masses, but it is a must-see for those who study film and embrace it as an art form. Horror fans who tend to venture outside the mainstream should enjoy it as well as it’s full of surprisingly violent setpieces that nicely balance out the Old West aspects that might initially be somewhat off-putting.
Other than a handful of trailers, the only special feature is Pyun’s commentary. With a career that spans over a quarter of a century, Pyun is full of insight and lively anecdotes. His narrative is loaded with behind-the-scenes info and is truthfully more interesting to listen to than the film itself.
Along with last year’s Invasion (review here), which landed in the “defies description” category of my best of list for 2007, Left for Dead cements Albert Pyun’s reputation as one of the most compellingly creative and innovative directors working in our genre today. Here’s hoping he keeps doing what he’s doing — just with better scripts and bigger budgets!
2 1/2 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5
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