Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 11th, 2011
In 1970 the British duo of Doctor Who’s Terry Nation and The Avengers’ Robert Fuest collaborated on a British film called And Soon The Darkness. The film stared then-popular Pamela Franklin. It wasn’t a huge success by any standards. It’s practically unheard of here in the States. But, there was something special about the little film. It developed one of those classic cult followings over the years and eventually gained the notice of people like Marcos Efron. With the popular trend of remaking pretty much every horror film ever made, it’s no surprise that someone decided to tackle this lesser-known movie.
Stephanie (Heard) and Ellie (Yustman) were part of a South American bike tour. Somewhere along the way they got bored with the travelogue version of the tour and decided to sneak away and explore the rural country on their own. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen this movie before. But this one doesn’t immediately go where you expect it to go. The girls spend a night partying at a local club. Ellie is a bit of a wild party girl and makes a huge show of herself at the club. Her antics culminate with a rather droll display of touching herself to the jukebox music. Stephanie is the more tame girl who had just caught her boyfriend cheating; there are indications that he cheated with Ellie, but I never was completely clear on that one. That night Ellie is stalked by a horny guy from the club but saved by Michael (Urban) who has the room next door. The next day they miss the only bus. So they head out to what was once a popular beach resort, even though they are ominously warned that it is desolate and dangerous now. Plus there are all of those missing-persons flyers. Of course, they decide to go anyway. There they have a fight about Stephanie’s ex and Stephanie bikes away in anger. Once she calms down, she tries to hook back up with Ellie only to find she’s disappeared and dropped her phone on the beach. She can’t convince the local sheriff Calvo (Vianco) that she met with foul play. The dirty-dancing pictures on her cell phone don’t help to convince anyone she isn’t off on some wild ride somewhere.
Now we know from the start what likely happened to Ellie. The film opens with a girl being tortured with blades and electricity. The actress is Joe Mantegna’s daughter. She also has a connection to our hero or villain Michael.
The film might very well have been conceived today. It was likely a bit ahead of its time in 1970. On the surface it almost looks like it’s going to be another one of those torture-porn entries. It starts out with all of the classic signs. You have two American girls touring a foreign country, who find themselves in some isolated place where tourists have been disappearing, according to the missing-persons flyers plastered all over the small town. You pretty much expect them to fall prey to no good, and you’re pretty much spot-on. Except that this movie spends more time on the getting there than any of the consequences the young girls are about to face. It’s a slow-burn movie that spends a lot of time on the characters. Stephanie’s search for her friend and the thriller aspects of “who can you trust” are really what this film is about. The cut-and-chase part of the film really only makes up the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. Even that part is broken up and doesn’t descend into your typical run through the woods with a psychotic killer on your trail. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of blood and more than a couple of death scenes. Many of these, however, are pretty mundane as horror films go.
You’ll also find a ton of horror movie conventions. There’s the fumbled truck keys along with the vehicle that won’t start as the bad guy closes in. Newspapers and flyers showing a ton of missing girls. Ominous warnings from hotel clerks. And, of course, the whole “young girls alone in an isolated part of a foreign country” thing. It’s all here. But, I’d argue that there is more here than all of that expected formula. The film does a great job of building suspense. Several characters are introduced where you’re left to guess at their motivations. You’ll get signs of both good and bad intentions before the truths are revealed. It’s all about the search here and less about the horror.
That brings us to the beautiful South American locations. The area does a good job of providing excellent atmosphere. The area is simply breathtaking at times. It’s deceptively beautiful, while ominous enough to promote that creepy feeling so essential to building the suspense and tension here. The forests aren’t the only locations you’ll encounter. The beach area is a wonderful study in contrast. Dead trees stand in pristine crystal blue water. Then there’s an abandoned city which must have once been the resort the girls read about. The place looks like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. Buildings stand in rubble, and the entire location has a monochrome quality to it that expresses just how dead this place truly is. The filmmakers really scored a home run with the locations here. Add to that a good eye by both the cinematographers and director Efron, and the movie is quite engaging even with the slow pace.
The cast is another cut above the average cardboard characters you so often get with these kinds of films. Thanks to some solid editing and scripting, you actually get to know these girls a bit more. Mostly it’s Stephanie you really get to know. Ellie is a typical party girl, but Odette Yustman does a good job with the little bit of time she has in the film, even if it is just to show us how well she can touch herself. The real treat here is Karl Urban as Michael. Michael is a real mystery here, and it’s going to be hard for you to decide which way he’s going to go until that crucial moment. Remember Urban played good ol’ Doc McCoy in the recent Star Trek reboot. He’s come along way from his tough guy start in films like Doom. Together with some of the local Argentine cast, this film appears to deliver real people in a rather sweet location. These are all the perfect ingredients to deliver a horror film that’s more thriller and far more enjoyable than the bulk of what we’re getting these days.
And Soon The Darkness is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. If you watch the opening sequence you might suspect that we’re going to see another image presentation that is dominated by the harsh, gritty texture that dominates these kinds of films, the kind of film where color is almost completely washed away and a thick grain overtakes any chance at detail. For a couple of minutes that’s exactly what you get. But then you start to see the Argentine vistas that explode with color and sharpness. This stuff looks incredibly breathtaking. Suddenly you’re whisked into a much more lavish real-world look for the majority of the movie. Contrast is just as good and just as vital here. I mentioned the dead trees in the blue water. It looks very good here. The desolate city lacks color, but again, it’s a marvelous display of contrast. This is one of those films where the visuals go a long way toward manipulating your moods and emotions. As Efron takes you from one place to another, he’s preparing you for how to feel during this part of the movie. I can’t imagine seeing this film in anything but high definition. It’s free of artifact, and the print is as pristine as the locations. It’s one of the best-looking horror films I’ve seen in a while.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 is just as spectacular without ever having to explode on your senses or calling undue attention to itself. The surrounds are almost never aggressive or terribly overwhelming. The effects are usually subtle and lean to the more natural. That means you get a wonderfully immersive sensation throughout the movie. Dialog is just fine and perfectly placed.
There is an Audio Commentary with Marcos Efron and a couple of crew members. He’s very complimentary of the Argentina film crew. He talks about the original film, which I found rather informative. Of course, there are the typical shot descriptions and technical explanations.
Director’s Video Diary: (11:12) Efron narrates footage from the film and some behind-the-scenes shots. The piece includes a visit to a local school by actress Amber Heard.
Deleted Scenes: (6:42) There is no individual select here. It’s all really just filler.
Yeah, it’s a remake. So what. Most likely, if you’re like me, you’ve never even heard of the original British film. I’d venture to say that this movie is not much like that one at all. I just like it when a script and production shows some thought and effort. It’s why I’m such a huge fan of William Malone’s Parasomnia. You might think that just because it’s a remake it’s going to lack originality. You’d be wrong. This film manages to at least look and feel original while still delivering on the formula that most of the audience has tuned in to see. The film isn’t a ton different, but it doesn’t really take that much to give it serious separation. After all, “there’s a fine line between irony and just plain bad”.