Thursday, March 10, 2011

DVD Review - And Soon The Darkness

And Soon The Darkness
Dir: Marcus Efron
Wri: Jennifer Dewington & Marcus Efron based on the script of the 1970 film "And Soon The Darkness" by Brian Clemens & Terry Nation
Starring: Amber Heard, Karl Urban, Odette Yustman, Cesar Vianco
Run Time: 87 mins
Distributor: Optimum Home Entertainment
*Be Warned - Contains Spoilers*
Remakes are usually the bane of most film lovers lives. Classic films we hold cherished memories of are given face lifts, but instead of looking newer and sexier they just look cut up and pointless. Made for the pure sake that a well known film title will get bums on seats. So it’s refreshing to see a remake of a film that holds only a mild cult following.
Originally made in 1970, And Soon the Darkness was directed by Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Devil’s Rain). The story centres on two young women on the holiday of a lifetime. But as is usually the way the dream holiday turns into a nightmare when one of the women is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Thus ensues a thriller where everyone is suspect and no-one is quite what they seem.
In this updated version we follow Stephanie (played by rising star Amber Heard) and Ellie (Odette Annable) as they ditch their group on a cycling holiday around the Argentinean countryside. We know that’s just asking for trouble, I mean the film’s not called And Soon the... Ice Cream Factory. The duo end up in a picturesque village and spend the night getting druuuuuuunk. Ellie hooks up with one of the locals, but things turn nasty when he tries to force himself into their room later that night. Luckily American ex-pat, Michael (Karl Urban) sees him on his way.
The next day the women cycle out to a remote area. But after a heated argument Stephanie cycles off leaving Ellie to the fate of a mysterious kidnapper. Becoming concerned for her friend Stephanie goes to the police but is fobbed off by a “not suspicious in the absolute slightest” police chief. Realizing her options are slim and working against a ticking clock of catching her plane home she teams up with Michael - who we discover is looking for his missing fiance. Together the pair try to discover what has become of Ellie and Michael’s fiance.
What is instantly noticeable about And Soon the Darkness is it’s wonderful photography. The Argentinean countryside is full of luscious green tress and rivers of the deepest blue. DOP Gabriel Beristain manages to make the area look both beautiful but menacing. Beneath every sun baked tree branch lies a dark shadow. It instantly makes you feel like you’re watching something that has been made with love and care as opposed to being a slap-dash thriller waiting to be shown on midnight TV.
Amber Heard and Odette Yustman make for appealing protagonists. Their banter feels natural, managing that great feat of being smart mouthed but not being annoying as hell. Amber Heard in particular shows why she is currently becoming Hollywood’s new darling. Appearing in virtually every scene she carries the film with an earnest performance that goes through all the stages of fear, panic and terror. As Stephanie she is the straight laced girl to the wild child that is Ellie. It made me think that maybe the film would have been more interesting if the more sensible girl was kidnapped, leaving the fuck up to try and find her. Just a thought.
The film takes its time to set up the plot. Perhaps a little too much. At just 80 mins we should get to Ellie’s kidnapping with haste but it’s a good half hour before the event itself. So the rest of the film, which is the film itself in terms of the plot, is rushed along at a pace which feels like it’s trying to be done so it can get itself down the pub.
Karl Urban’s character too feels rushed and redundant. In what is essentially an extended cameo Urban does little with his character, essentially being there to explain to Stephanie the underlining reason for the kidnapping. This reason being that girls are kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking. It’s a frightening subject, one that has become more prevalent in the last decade particularly with stories coming from Eastern Europe. This plot line like everything else in the second half of the film is brushed over with great abandon. Taking a disturbing subject which deserves a well researched, though-provoking drama is relegated to being a plot device. I’m not trying to get on a high-horse or anything but the way this film just tosses it in a kind of “oh she’s being sold as a sex worker” just doesn’t sit right. Perhaps leaving the reason of the kidnapping a bit more ambiguous would have created a more menacing atmosphere. Giving it a real-life issue sets itself up to offer a solution to the problem... which never comes. The film instead ends in a classic thriller way with our heroine going up against the bad guys with fists and shotguns blazing.
The story is also prone to the occasional non-sensical plot point. My favourite being when Michael suggests to Stephanie that it would be better if they split up to look for Ellie. This is after we’ve established that young women are wantonly kidnapped in the area, Michael himself has already told them to stay away from the locals and they are looking for her friend - who has been abducted by a local. She shouldn’t be out of his fucking sight!
It is a shame. The opening 20 mins of the film seem very promising. A chilling opener points to the dangers ahead, a wonderful looking film complemented by good leading performers. But the film really could have benefitted from running twenty minutes longer. The main story focus is rushed through so quickly it’s hard to really invest in any of the tension director Marcos Efron tries to create. It’s to his credit that he manages to make everybody in the small Argentinean town a suspect without devolving into a Americans = good, Argentines = bad situation. But he really could have told composer tomanddandy to tone back the shrill violins. It’s a classic case of the soundtrack telling you “suspense, suspense, suspense, SUSPENSE!!! It becomes a bit grating. Aside from one or two genuinely surprising revelations And Soon the Darkness feels like a rushed version of Polanski’s Frantic - is it time for a remake of that yet, or I suppose there are a billion other kidnap films out there.
And Soon the Darkness - **

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