Lifetime Review: 'Left for Dead'
An amnesiac woman finds herself caught in a web of betrayal in this tense thriller.
After narrowly surviving a car crash, Leah (Chelsea Hobbs) finds herself not only on the verge of being charged with drunk driving and auto theft, but with no memory of the crimes she supposedly committed or what led up to the accident. With Officer Barrett (Klea Scott) intent on keeping her in prison until her identity can be uncovered, Leah appears to only have two people in her corner: pro-bono lawyer Rick (Mark Famiglietti) and Dean (William McNamara), who introduces himself to Leah as her husband.
But prior to her release from police custody into Dean's care, a trip to the accident scene sparked a memory for Leah: her young daughter Sammi (Ashley Silverman) was with her at the time of the accident. While Dean assures her and the police that Sammi was killed years prior by a drunk driver, Leah is convinced Dean is hiding the truth and convinces Rick to help her find her missing daughter. Leah's fight to unearth the truth will reveal more than a few secrets about Dean, and lead to an intense scramble to rescue Sammi before this web of deceit costs Leah what she loves most.
In a nutshell, Left for Dead can be described as a hybrid of two different Lifetime plots: the "Woman Gets Amnesia" plot line and the "Child Abduction" plot line. While the latter plot is ultimately the one that takes the focus of the film, writer Jack Nasser makes the transition a natural one after having the two plots run in tandem, and gives both plots a sense of purpose in the film.
Nasser also excels at making Left for Dead a suspenseful thrill ride, throwing his audience head first into the action and keeping their attention captured with a steady flow of tension. While many aspects about the circumstances of Leah's accident are revealed quickly, Nasser allows for Leah's amnesia regarding her predicament and the whereabouts of her daughter to be used to build both tension and intrigue as to when Leah's memory will come back to her—and what she will have to do in order to save herself and Sammi.
Nasser and director Brian Skiba were also fortunate to have gotten a strong cast for Left for Dead, who all do well at salvaging the weaker elements of the film's plot (more on those later). Chelsea Hobbs makes for a strong and likable protagonist, throwing herself into Leah's emotional devastation at the situation she finds herself in. The film also allows Leah to maintain a hidden strength and awareness of what has happened to her, realizing right away that Dean is untrustworthy and working to figure out the truth about what happened to her and her daughter. Hobbs is also notable for the intense dynamic she forms with William McNamara, with the initially unspoken hatred that exists between Leah and Dean being brought to life with vibrant bite by Hobbs and McNamara.
Speaking of McNamara, he brings the same villainous vigor to Dean he brought to Mark Dupree in The Wrong Roommate. The film wastes little time letting the audience in on the type of man Dean is, and McNamara brings a vigor to his ruthless and callous demeanor towards Leah and anyone else who stands in his way. But throughout the film's first acts, both McNamara and the script allow for another side of Dean to emerge as we see that, for all the arrogant bravado he shows when taunting Leah, he's ultimately at the mercy of the people he's hired for his diabolical scheme that has quickly gone awry. McNamara balances out both aspects of Dean to keep him as a strong and malicious villain, with McNamara keeping Dean an effective antagonist even when the plot hits pitfalls.
WARNING: Spoilers Below
What are those pitfalls, you may ask? The most disappointing has to do with the fact that the desperate side to Dean is established by his relationship with his cohorts Justin and Danielle, who use Sammi's inadvertent ensnarement in Dean's plot against Leah to turn the tables on him and extort him for more money. This dynamic could've lent itself to bringing depth to Dean, having him be a villain who, despite being greedy and hellbent on killing Leah for what he deems a betrayal, genuinely loves his daughter and wants to keep her safe from the cohorts who have turned on him.
For much of the film, it appeared this character depth might be a possibility—until we reach the climax, where Dean has Sammi rescued and is intent on using her to force Leah to kill herself, threatening to kill the both of them if she won't comply. While the twist is a good one, and McNamara sells Dean's newly shown malice in spades, the missed opportunity to bring a fresh take on the classic "Psycho Ex-Husband" role can definitely be felt. Dean also has moments when he falls into cliche villain mistakes, particularly his habit of leaving Leah alone in his house full of incriminating evidence—seemingly believing that (somehow) her house arrest will keep her from trying to contact the police for help after she's uncovered his crimes. Leah and Rick also fall into their own bout of plot-induced idiocy, with neither opting to go to the police after having uncovered evidence of Dean's true nature and nearly being killed by one of his cohorts.
Jeremy Kent Jackson and Geri-Nikole Love join McNamara in the villainous hot seat as hitman-for-hire couple turned kidnappers Justin and Danielle, with the two playing well off each other in scenes that showcase their relationship alternating between Bonnie and Clyde-esque romance and palpable toxicity. Love makes a strong impact in her own right as Danielle shows herself to be the more stable and compassionate (and considerably less violent) member of the criminal duo, sharing a heartwarming chemistry with Ashley Silverman (who is likable and sympathetic in her role) as Danielle and Sammi form a tenuous friendship. Jackson, meanwhile, brings venom to his portrayal of the volatile Justin, though there are moments when Jackson oversells Justin's unstable side and the film's later attempts to humanize Justin ultimately fall flat due to coming too late to make up for being an absolute monster throughout the first two acts.
Mark Famiglietti does well as compassionate lawyer Rick, striking a solid camaraderie with Hobbs as Rick and Leah team up to help clear her name, and Klea Scott has strong moments as the no-nonsense but compassionate Officer Barrett. In a surprisingly impactful side performance, Alma Martinez brings a lot of emotion to her role as hotel owner Ms. Ruiz, bringing palpable worry and fear as she finds herself caught up in the search for Sammi.
The plot and characterization is not as strong as it could've been, but as a whole, Left for Dead is a strong kidnapping drama with a solid cast and strong writing that allows the plot to unfold organically and for the tension to start off strong and maintain that strength throughout the film to make for an entertaining view. Just allow your suspension of disbelief to cover up the lesser aspects, and Left for Dead will remain a strong Lifetime thriller that is sure to keep your attention.
Score: 8 out of 10 ankle monitor lights.