Argentina looks gorgeous in Marcos Efron's remake of the British cult thriller And Soon the Darkness, and so do its two leading ladies, Odette Yustman and Amber Heard, as two gal pals bicycling their way through the country on holiday. High compliments must be given to the location team, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain (Blade II, The Spanish Prisoner), and both actresses, but the praise that can be paid to this lazy, thoughtless, and thoroughly conventional B thriller must end there, I'm afraid. For no matter how minor a cult item Robert Fuest's original film might have been, it at the very least invoked a unique sensibility and the unmistakable mark of a specific artist behind its 98 minutes of echoing, discomfiting isolationism, neither of which this new incarnation can be said to have.
The new film clocks in at roughly the same time, and though the structure of the narrative remains generally similar, a comparison of their stylistic differences reveals the unimaginative and shallow focus of Mr. Efron's debut feature. The foreign land has been moved from the French countryside of the original film to Argentina, where Ellie and Stephanie (Yustman and Heard) have been traveling for nearly a week when they come across a small village to rest for a night before catching a bus to a new locale. This affords Ellie a night to writhe and grind to Divinyls's "I Touch Myself" at a local watering hole and make out with a mysterious hunk (Michel Noher) while Stephanie worries about an early wake-up and trades nervous glances with a fellow American (Karl Urban). The girls awake to realize they have missed their bus and decide to take the day to sunbathe while sharing an iPod playlist and headphones on a small beach.
The sunbathing scene climaxes with an argument between the friends, but not before Efron stages a montage where nearly every curve of Yustman and Heard's tanned and bikini-clad bodies is detailed. Stephanie storms off and begins to ride back to town but eventually returns to find that Ellie is gone, which she takes as a mark of a kidnapping. The original film, released stateside in 1971, features a similar scene where the two girls lay on a patch of grass and wax philosophical until one reveals that she intends to seduce a shadowy man who has been following them around. That man has essentially been split in half in Efron's film, embodied equally in Urban's brooding good guy and Noher's fiery villain. And in both cases, the film hits its minor stride with the introduction of a police investigator who may be involved in the kidnapping, played by a suave César Vianco in Efron's film.
The essential difference between these films can be tracked from the very first shot in each. Efron begins with the sight of a gagged woman being tortured in a dark room, not only concluding that Ellie was indeed kidnapped before the incident happens but letting us know exactly what sort of hell she is experiencing. In complete contrast, Fuest's film begins with and sustains images of the open fields of the countryside that, as the film goes on, becomes more and more unnerving in that there is seemingly nowhere to hide. And as Efron's film devolves into a predictable chase through the woods and even out to sea, Fuest conjures up a deeply unsettling sense of alienation by having his heroine remain in basically the same settings throughout the film, leading her to slowly uncover minor perversities that might have nothing to do with the disappearance of her friend. The fact that nearly all of Efron's characters speak or understand English in some way and Fuest doesn't even employ the use of subtitles is worth mentioning as well.
The torture sequence that tips off Efron's film certainly denotes a sea change in what a large contingency of the moviegoing public looks for in cheap thrills and cult spectacle these days, but And Soon the Darkness's failure to illicit even the bare minimum of scares is something that can't be blamed solely on its wanting to give the people exactly what they want. Scripted by Efron and Jennifer Derwingson, the film has been structured and plotted in such a way that only the absolute bare minimum of tastes and intellects will be offended, which isn't to say that the original was a landmark in the genre in any sense of the word. Efron, however, has basically erased any mark of himself as a unique or nuanced artist, something which one hopes all filmmakers aspire to. His triumph, it would seem, is the triumph of sufficiency.
IMAGE / SOUND:
Despite the film's general flaccidity, Anchor Bay's lush 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer makes for a peerless viewing experience. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the location shooting in Argentina is as clear as anyone could have hoped for. The colors the film chooses to use (more reds, greens, and yellows than anything else) are crisply displayed and the black levels are well balanced. The audio is also very well done. Atmosphere noise is mixed and balanced well throughout with the soundtrack while dialogue is put out front with negligible clarity. A solid presentation of a mediocre product overall.
The audio commentary here features director Marcos Efron, editor Todd Miller, and director of photography Gabriel Beristain, and for the most part, there's a fun enough atmosphere to make it an interesting listen, but there's almost no real instance of legitimate fascination about the production that I found especially exciting. And the commentary is far more enjoyable than Efron's video diary, which adds absolutely nothing to one's understanding of the film or its production. Deleted scenes are also included.
A remake of a not particularly great film, And Soon the Darkness is like most modern Hollywood horror/thriller in structure and color scheme, only duller.