While I’ll probably always consider Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs the gold standard for fish-out-of-water thrillers, Robert Fuests’ underrated 1970 film, And Soon the Darkness, runs a very close second. In that film, a pair of British nurses are on holiday in rural France. While bicycling through the countryside, the two girls get in a spat that leads to a brief separation in which one of them goes missing. The rest of the film revolves around the other girl dealing with both the language barrier and a host of creepy red herrings as she tries to find her friend before darkness falls. It’s a moody, atmospheric, and deliberately paced thriller that pays off in spades, and stands amongst my favorite genre films of the era. Now, here in 2010, the film gets a both a change of scenery and a drastic overhaul to the original film’s much more straightforward plot, taking the action south of the border with decidedly mixed results.
Amber Heard and Odette Yustman star as Stephanie and Ellie, two cross-country bikers who’ve strayed from their group to take in the rustic backroads of Argentina. The sullen Stephanie is still reeling over a recent break-up with her boyfriend, while the much more festive Ellie wants to make the most of the last few days of their adventure. They stop in a small town and check into a hotel to await the arrival of the early bus back to the city, but, rather than settle in for a good night’s sleep, Ellie wants to party, and drags Stephanie out to the local watering hole for one last hurrah before they head home. After several drinks, Ellie ditches her friend for a handsome young local, and Stephanie returns to the hotel. Later that evening, she’s awakened by a ruckus outside of their room and discovers a drunken Ellie fending off the advances of the man she’d left with, forcing both Stephanie and a mysterious American named Michael (Karl Urban) to intervene. With the situation defused, the girls thank Michael and turn in for the night, only to awaken to discover they’ve missed their bus. Forced to spend another day in town, the girls head out sightseeing where, after a fight about the prior evening’s events, they separate, with Stephanie leaving Ellie sunbathing by the local watering hole. Later, Stephanie receives a text from Ellie, telling her she’s sorry and hoping she’ll meet her at a nearby restaurant. When Ellie doesn’t show, a worried Stephanie decides to return to the spot where she left her, running into Michael along the way. Michael offers her a ride, but Stephanie refuses and goes on her own, but, when she arrives at her destination, she discovers that not only has Michael followed her, but Ellie’s nowhere to be found. Understandably creeped out, Stephanie calls the local policemen, Calvo (Cesar Vianco), who escorts her back to the station to file a report. Unhappy with how the laid-back Calvo is handling the investigation, Stephanie decides to do a little investigating of her own, and uncovers more than she bargained for. Now, with her friend’s life on the line, Stephanie must race against the clock to find her.
This 2010 model of And Soon the Darkness employs a lot of the same elements that made the original film so unbearably tense and creepy. As in the first film, characters speaking in Spanish (in the original, of course, it was French) are not subtitled, and it effectively draws the audience into the character’s plight (unless, of course, you speak Spanish!) and heightens the suspense. This updated version also features the same deliberate pacing, with much more emphasis placed on establishing mood and creating atmosphere than going for shock tactics and easy thrills. It works, for the most part, but director, Marcos Efron, doesn’t exploit the benefits of the foreign (both literally and figuratively) landscape as much as his predecessor did, nor does is he able to generate the level of unease I felt when watching Fuest’s film. There’s also a rather drastic deviation from the plot of the original that, for me, sabotaged the third act of the film, taking it into the familiar xenophobia-inducing territory of Hostel, Train, and Turistas. I much prefer the comparatively simple surprises of the original, but I understand why Efron and company chose to make these changes as today’s decidedly more jaded (and much less forgiving) audiences would have seen the ending of the original coming from a mile away.
The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay sports a fine 2.35:1 transfer that boasts impressive detail, especially in the daylight sequences, as well as nice overall color saturation that makes for a mostly vibrant and impressive picture. I did find blacks, however, a bit washed out early on, almost bordering on dark gray, however the issue didn’t persist further into the film. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is lush and atmospheric, with well mixed dialogue, smartly implemented surround effects, and a bevy of immersive atmospheric touches. Bass seemed a bit underutilized, but, when it came into play, it had an acceptable amount of punch.
Extras include an engaging commentary featuring Efron, editor Todd Miller and director of photography Gabriel Beristain, a collection of deleted scenes, and a “Director's Video Diary”.
And Soon the Darkness doesn’t generate the tension and thrills of the 1970 original, but it comes close at times. I wasn’t a big fan of the plot deviation in the third act, but, at the same time, I did appreciate having the rug pulled out from under me in that regard as I was pretty certain I knew where things were heading from the moment the girls set foot into the secretive little town. While both the original film and this remake are slow moving affairs, I found the rewards for patience a little more generous in Fuests’ film, as the new version does drag a bit, especially in the second act. Still, there’s enough good here to recommend a rental at the very least, especially if you’ve not yet had your expectations heightened by the classic original film.