The first thing you see in writer/director Marcos Efron’s new thriller, “And Soon the Darkness”, a remake of a 1970 British film of the same name, is a young, scantly clad woman, chained to a wall, get electrocuted by some unseen villain. This gives you the immediate impression that the film is going to be another torture porn. So it is a pleasant surprise when “And Soon the Darkness” instead turns out to be a tight, well-executed suspense film. It isn’t exploring any new territory, but for what it is, it is well done.
Stephanie (Amber Heard, who also serves as co-producer) and Ellie (Odette Yustman) are nearing the end of a once-in-a-lifetime bicycle trip through Argentina. Steph is the low key, almost prudish girl, while Ellie is the wild, free-spirited part of the duo. On their last day they come to a remote mountain village, and after a shower, decide to go out for a night on the town. You’ve seen enough horror movies to know that flaunting your sexy Americanness while in a foreign country never ends well. Ellie gets wasted, flirts with a local, and has to be rescued from unwanted sexual advances in the wee hours of the morning by Michael (Karl Urban with some sweet highlights in his hair), a mysterious American who is staying at the same hotel as the girls.
The next morning, Ellie’s raging hangover causes the girls to miss the only bus out of town that day. Since they’re stuck anyway the girls decide to go exploring, but while at a scenic waterfall they have a fight, and Steph leaves Ellie and rides off on her bike. Eventually Steph cools down, but when she returns to the falls to retrieve Ellie, there are signs of a struggle, but no signs of Ellie. The local authorities are no help, and none of the villagers will talk to her, so, desperate and with nowhere else to turn, Steph enlists Michael to help. But Michael has some secretes of his own, and may not everything he seems. As the sheriff tells Steph, “just because he speaks English, doesn’t mean you should trust him.”
You’ve seen this set up before—pretty girls in trouble, picturesque surroundings that hide a sinister underbelly, frustratingly unhelpful provincial police, a helpful stranger who may not be trustworthy, and of course the if-only-they’d-caught-that-bus-everything-would-be-okay moment. The main question is, even though “And Soon the Darkness” is full of standard horror-thriller elements, will the film deliver something unique or compelling? The answer to that is yes, it does.
The story is tense and convincing. You feel Steph’s rising panic as she frantically searches for her kidnapped BFF. The plot has ample twists and turns, taking you in some unexpected directions, but these shifts are never forced, arising instead as a natural part of the narrative, as opposed to jumping out of thin air and trying to shock you. MINOR SPOILER—you’re watching “And Soon the Darkness”, waiting for them to screw everything up with some sort of hideous attempt to blow your mind, like “it was all a dream” or something on par with that, but it never happens. There is no twist ending. Instead of going in for cheap tricks and scares, Efron, and co-writer Jennifer Derwingson, rely on good storytelling to construct an effective, suspenseful movie.
“And Soon the Darkness” also looks great. Sweeping shots of Argentine mountains are scenic and impressive, and add to the isolated tone and atmosphere of the film. The climactic scene takes place in a gray, windswept wasteland that look like the desiccated skeleton of what used to be a luxury resort. It could be an unused location from “Cyborg”, or some other post-apocalyptic tale. Turns out it is actually the ruins of a town that flooded years ago and was abandoned.
While not terribly original, “And Soon the Darkness” is an entertaining film that, within genre confines, delivers exactly what it promises—tension, suspense, and a story that catches and holds your attention throughout. Check it out, it’s worth a look. It is also worth noting that this is Efron’s first time out as a feature director, and if this is any indication, good things will come in the future.
“And Soon the Darkness” opens on December 17th in a limited theatrical run, with the DVD/Blu-ray release to follow shortly on December 28th.
The DVD comes with a collection of deleted scenes, and an excerpt from Efron’s video diary that serves as a behind the scenes feature narrated by the director. A commentary track with Efron, editor Todd Miller, and cinematographer Gabriel Berinstain, has a lot of information about the trials and tribulations of shooting a low-budget, independent movie in a remote, foreign location.