Directed By: Marcos Efron
Screenplay By: Jennifer Derwingson, Marcos Efron
Based upon the 1970 film And Soon the Darkness, written by Brian Clemens & Terry Nation
Produced By: Chris Clark, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder, Deborah Marcus
Cast: Amber Heard, Odette Yustman, Karl Urban, César Vianco, Michel Noher, Adriana Barraza
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes
Release Date: December 17, 2010
Review Date: December 22, 2010
And Soon the Darkness has an awful title, retained from the 1970 film that inspired it. This remake bears superficial similarities to the original — enough that it probably deserves credit — but it’s a semi-obscure British thriller that did tepid box office before the world forgot about it. The title has context in the broken English spoken by the French characters in the original film. For the remake, it has no context whatsoever. This is not Halloween. Audiences — particularly the teens and college students the film is clearly aimed at — won’t associate it with the original film, and it doesn’t really sound like the title of a taut suspense thriller about careless women literally walking into trouble. It sounds more like a lugubrious period drama scored by Philip Glass.
That’s a shame, because And Soon the Darkness is actually a pretty good thriller. It comes close to greatness but misses the mark as a result of some clumsy foreshadowing and director/co-writer Marcos Efron emphasizing the film’s familiar plot rather than its unique, fairly compelling characters. Still, it’s a slick film with gorgeous locations, a capable cast, and at least one interesting twist.
Like a pleasant variation on 2006’s Turistas, the film posits that whenever white people head south of the border, they’re destined for trouble. Amber Heard stars as Stephanie, the “responsible one” in a pair of good friends cycling across Argentina. Odette Yustman plays Ellie, the “wild one,” whose penchant for boozing and picking up any guy who will smile at her seems like a recipe for trouble. The encouraging thing about this dynamic duo is the script’s resistance to the obvious stereotypes. As the “wild one,” Ellie is maybe 10% wilder and less responsible than Stephanie, who’s willing to down shots and leer at men — she just keeps her head together enough to do things like set the alarm clock and not act on her lusty feelings because she has a boyfriend back home. (Granted, the boyfriend is an abusive lunkhead who dumped her, but that doesn’t stop her from staring wistfully at her cell phone in the hopes that he’ll try to patch things up.)
Having ditched their tour group early in the trip, Stephanie and Ellie now wander the backroads of Argentina. They come to a small village that a bus runs through that can get them to the airport. Only one bus, leaving at 8AM. Neither is happy about this development, but it doesn’t stop them from wandering over to the local bar and getting plowed. Michael (Karl Urban), a hunky but brooding American, catches Stephanie’s eye, but she won’t talk to him. Ellie tries to make some magic happen by following him into the men’s room (claiming to have a “female emergency”) and flirt with him. Calling Michael’s reaction “standoffish” would be mild. Later, Ellie leaves Stephanie alone to get it on with Chucho (Michel Noher), an eerily Mandy Patinkin-esque Argentine.
Stephanie retreats to the small motel, where every little innocuous noise has her on edge with drunken paranoia. When she finally falls asleep, Ellie and Chucho wake her up, grinding against the room’s window. Chucho insists on going back to his place, but Ellie refuses. He gets rough, leading Michael (also staying in the motel) to intervene.
In a Home Alone-esque development, the struggle leads to the alarm clock getting unplugged. Stephanie and Ellie miss their bus (only one a day runs through the little village). Stephanie wants to make the most of their last day in Argentina, but hungover Ellie would rather sleep in. Stephanie drags her to some gorgeous waterfalls, but they get into an argument and split up. Ellie decides to lie out in the sun, by herself, in the middle of nowhere. And she disappears.
The remainder of the film revolves around Stephanie’s increasing paranoia as she attempts to search this unfamiliar village for her friend. Few villagers speak English, and her Spanish is comically bad (even when she can stammer out a question, she doesn’t understand the answer). Before long, she finds herself teamed up with Michael, who speaks Spanish like a native and seems concerned about Ellie’s disappearance. But Stephanie’s not sure she can trust him, and the film portrays his character like an homme fatale — a man who seems to know more than he says and seems a little too kind to be believed.
Most of the film is solidly suspenseful, but Efron tips his narrative hand a bit too often. The film opens with a completely unnecessary bit of foreshadowing involving a mysterious girl being tortured. This is accompanied by frequent pans to partially obscured MISSING WOMAN posters. Finally, when Ellie starts to hear noises in the bushes, there’s the old horror-movie staple of the camera rapidly pushing in on her as she screams. This is unfortunate, because the film could have mined more early suspense by allowing the audience to question the very real possibility that Ellie did just wander off. Maybe she went back and found Chucho, maybe the fight that caused her and Stephanie to separate made her so angry that she just left town, maybe she got hurt — plenty of possibilities exist, but we already have a pretty strong idea long before Stephanie does.
These moments dull the early beats of the second act quite a bit, but that didn’t completely ruin my enjoyment of the film. It merely prevented the film from elevating to a higher plane of quality. This is a film that, with the exception of the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph, hums on all cylinders — great cast, great script, great cinematography, great (for the most part) directing. It has every right to be a great film, but it’s not, and for reasons that could have easily been fixed before its release. That’s a big disappointment, but a film that’s merely “good” is still worth seeing.
D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.