Thursday, April 8, 2010

And Soon (No, Actually Not Soon At All) the Darkness

In continuing my catchup of great daytime horror, today's featured film comes courtesy of a recommendation from one Andre Dumas (whom I assume with confidence to be the distant relation of the Mousekateer dude) over at The Horror Digest , a fine horror blog filled with an excellent assortment of reviews and musings from a talented mind.

Since this is an extremely slow film that takes its time moving, it seems fair that I should drag out this intro equally so. So. Spring eh? And how 'bout them Mets? That's a horror show to be in itself! And you know, ever listen to the lyrics of MacArthur Park? What's that about? Cake? Rain? Speaking of rain, it's April and...

Yeah that's not working. Let's just talk about the movie.
Quick Plot:
Two pretty young British nurses are on a bicycle holiday touring the French countryside. Jane, the level-headed (possibly because of her symmetrical haircut) brunette has the trip mapped and planned, but the 'bright blond' Cathy would rather relax, tan her rectangular midsection, and flirt with Frenchmen resembling what I assume the love child of Kermit the Frog and the stressed out teacher in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would look like on a Vespa.

A cranky are-we-there-yet squabble breaks up the pair, with Jane hopping her red hot pants bum back on her bike and venturing on while Cathy hangs some damp underwear on a tree, pumps on the '70s tunes, and takes a nap on the side of the road (the world was a very different place pre-Girls Gone Wild). When she wakes up, Jane is long gone, as are one probably dry pair of panties. Far worse is the fact that her rented bicycle is now mangled and unridable. Looking on the bright side, her wedgie situation will most likely improve.

Upon pulling over for a drink, the non-French speaking Jane has an awkward exchange with a local that leaves her uneasy about the road ahead and behind. Swayed by her good girl conscience, she rides back to Cathy only to discover (gasp cue) no sign of her friend. Foreign help is fishy and hard to understand, and cell phones are further away than the end of the Cold War. 

And Soon the Darkness is filled with red herrings and careful plot twists, so I'll tread lightly here. Something is clearly amiss, but who's to blame? Is it the shady couple running a never-visited cafe? The spinstery British schoolmistress offended by sex and tourism? The slick and seemingly intentionally mysterious moped driver who works on 'impulse?' The sympathetic but evil mustache-sporting policeman? His insane elderly father who likes to make head accessories out of underpants?
I can't say how long the film keeps you guessing for, but it holds up the mystery incredibly well until its frightening reveal. While the cast--particularly Pamela Franklin as the final girl Jane--is exceptionally strong, most of the credit for And Soon the Darkness belongs to director Robert Fuest. 

Familiar name you say? Many viewers may remember him from The Abomidable Dr Phibes (still on my to-see list) but loyal readers here would know the man from the meltstravaganza of Shattitude and satanism, The Devil's Rain. On one hand, it's rather unbelievable that the same director could helm such shockingly different films in terms of quality. On the other, the few things that work in that star-studded atrocity involve Fuest's mastery of a sprawling desert landscape, something used to great effect in And Soon the Darkness.

This isn’t a film that rests on dialogue or plot. While the familiar premise of stranger-in-a-strange-land + missing person on the road draws us in, it’s Fuest’s camera that holds our attention for nearly 80 minutes before a genuine threat of violence. Many viewers probably won’t last that long, but the tense finale had me holding my breath and eventually, squirming in true discomfort and horror. The PG rating (yes, this was pre-PG13) isn’t totally unwarranted in terms of what’s on the screen, but if watched in full with the right patience, And Soon the Darkness is thoroughly unsettling.

High Points
Between the happy-go-lucky opening theme (repeated throughout to eerie effect) and some of the lighter musical cues, the score is carefully crafted and well used to full effect
I should explain that I have a personal connection to some of the fears on display here. No, I've never subjected myself to a hot pants bike tour or been teased by a lingerie-headed Frenchman, but I've lived abroad in the past without knowing much of the language. Fuest fantastically captures that discomfort one naturally has being an outsider in a foreign land. Jane probably does fine at cafes and hostels, but put her in serious danger and watch the stress and fear eat away the few French phrases she knows. The film wisely eschews any subtitles, keeping us--at least, the non-Francophiles and kids that failed French class--in the same helpless state of never knowing what others are saying about the situation. Combine that with the endless road and sparsely populated villages and you have a character in dire need of help, unable to explain why, and never sure if she can trust the man or woman who may or may not provide it.

Especially in pants like those
Low Points
Yes, there is no real kinetic plotting until the 80+ minute mark. While the suspense held my attention, this could easily dissuade a lot of viewers
I can’t really detail this plot piece without spoiling, so I’ll be vaguer than a Lost preview and say that the behavior of a major character towards the end is incredibly frustrating in hindsight. Don’t you WISH you knew what I meant by that!
Lessons Learned
In the '70s, vertically striped pants and mint green collared shirts earned you the description, "dishy"

The French countryside is home to quite a few abandoned trailer parks
Before embarking on a weeklong vacation with a casual friend, be sure you have common interests
This is the kind of film that didn’t really unnerve me until the next day, when I had some time to reflect on just how eerie the overall execution turned out to be. Because of its snail crawl pacing, I wouldn’t advise a blind buy, as many a viewer will simply be too bored. Rent And Soon the Darkness for a day when you have a solid 100 minutes and some intellectual energy to digest. The DVD includes a few extras and a filmmaker commentary, a fantastic listen for film fans with eagle eyes and open ears. As you might expect, there is indeed a remake in the works, this one starring All the Boy's Love Mandy Lane’s Amber Heard. I’m personally curious to see a modern take on this tale, especially if director Marcos Efron has the patience to let the setting (in this case, Argentina) speak for itself.


  1. Wohooo! Did you catch the SUPER goof in the beginning? I have a screen shot of it on my review...which I am too lazy to link to but good thing my reviews are alphabetically listed on the side bar.

    Glad you liked it- especially after the fact too! It is totally one of those ones that while watching you don't think anything is especially good or terrifying and then later....bam!

    But I was proud to recommend it, especially for daylight horror. I love how the darkness doesn't actually come until the credits. The title was being truthful after all!

  2. I was kind of hoping the remake would be set in my home state of Wyoming - talk about wide open spaces and creepy foreigners!

  3. I didn't catch the goof until I checked your review, then felt silly for not catching it since yup. It's obvious. I would clearly be a dreadful editor or script supervisor.

    This film definitely hit you at the end. You can sense the dread building, but you don't notice how uncomfortable it makes you feel until you really get to the final cat-and-mouse hunt. When the villain is finally revealed, it's genuinely unnerving. I was seriously squirming not because it was a big surprise, but just in how it finally plays out feels really wrong and cruel.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

    And shiftless, your comment seemed to be in disappearing ink, but I agree that that portion of the U.S. is way underused in film. In general, there's a lot of unexplored U.S. geography ripe for horror but our xenophobic filmmakers seem intent on heading abroad.

  4. First off, I'm getting some vertical striped pants and a mint green shirt.... and a time machine.

    That being said, I like this film a lot. Mostly because of the performance of Pamela Franklin, but also because of Fuest's steady hand guiding the slow burn. The ending is a real pulse pounder, and this is one of the best pure suspense films outside of Hitchcock.

    Great review as always, now out to go pants shopping.

  5. I tell ya, those vertical striped pans should make a comeback. They're quite slimming. And mint green is perfect for spring. Hurry before these crazy kids and their style starts to change!

    Franklin is super in this film. A perfect presence and someone you're genuinely concerned for. I definitely recommend listening to the commentary for some great discussion from Fuest. Such a shame The Devil's Rain burned out his career.

    The ending 'chase' was fantastically Hitchcokian, but that final reveal realllllly got under my skin. Good stuff all around.

  6. I loved this one, thought it had a smart build and a surprise ending but the slow pacing definitely will not be for everyone as you mentioned. Glad you got to see it Em!

  7. I was intrigued by your description of this even before getting to the mention of Fuest. OMG! I will have to check this out -- thank you!

  8. My pleasure AE! I'll be sure to keep an eye on your blog because now I'm ordering you to post your thoughts when you do!

  9. And thanks Carl! Didn't see you sneak in there.