Marcos Efron's And Soon the Darkness remakes a '70s thriller of the same name, a calculated slow-burn that uses its surroundings and performances to create closed-in tension in an "exotic" locale. Efron nails those attributes down with his take; he transplants the setting from France to the lush Argentinean landscape filled with flourishing greenery and sun-bathed roads, while finding appealing it-actresses in Amber Heard and Odette Yustman to frolic in bikinis and ride their bikes as classic tourist-chick types. What he neglects is the burn to his slow-burn, leaving this drawn-out thriller -- more interested in its picturesque photography and catching femme focuses -- to blandly pedal through an egregious amount of tongue-tied build-up towards its mundane disappearance jolts.
The two girls are cutouts from just about any female-driven horror flick, with Ellie (Yustman) as the saucy man-bedding harlot without abandon and Stephanie (Heard) as her responsibly buttoned-up counterpart. While backpacking through Argentina, they stumble onto a little layover village where they decide to stay the night (hey, there's Adriana Barraza!) until an important bus ride to the airport leaves the next day. After an evening of drinks, flirtation with locals, and a guy's attempt to force himself on Ellie, broken up by a mysterious English-speaking stranger (Karl Urban), the two venture out the next day for some sunbathing and sight-seeing. Lo and behold, Ellie vanishes just as Stephanie leaves her bikini-clad side for just a while, sparking a search to find her through the uncooperative, eerie village -- which seems to have a history of disappearing girls.
Efron aims for the "immersive" thriller tone for And Soon the Darkness, gruffly and methodically leading us through the hunt for Ellie similar to how a girl like Stephanie would endure in a real-life scenario. Taking inspiration from Robert Fuest's original film and dropping it in a modern climate like this, one where recent abduction cases have been highly-publicized, could potentially be a recipe for penetrating dramatic suspense burrowed inside effective horror. For this to work, though, there's got to be some connection with the stranded tourists, and Efron's film botches that aspect. When Ellie flaunts her barely-clothed self in front of locales the night before, spouting "El peepee!" when Stephanie asks where she's going at point, it stretches into woefully grating character build-up that earns little concern for some rather dimwitted victims.
A tedious focus on its characters makes the top half of And Soon the Darkness an uninvolving and suspense-free trudge while approaching "the darkness", trading flippant Ellie-isms with Amber Heard's better-than-it-deserved handling of Stephanie's ill-defined dryness. Just to be clear, there's a whole lot of attractiveness going on in Efron's film; the two lead actresses skimpily saunter around the Argentinean landscape, which Princess Kaiulani's Gabriel Beristain exquisitely photographs. The rolling mountains, high-texture abodes, and dusty roads boast a level of fertile composition unbefitting the rickety framework that it's draped over, evoking a desire to travel to that secluded location instead of the fear that the story should be generating around the village's eerie corners. Beauty, in essence, overshadows the uninvolving vein of suspense, lulling one into picturesque boredom instead of fidget-worthy tension.
When And Soon the Darkness eventually does kick into gear, seeping into that done-to-death high-contrast visual style, it offers mechanical twists and turns that aren't gripping enough to justify the blandly formulaic -- albeit nice-looking -- path taken to get there. Karl Urban and Adriana Barraza, two incontestable talents, go underused in a pair of wishy-washy filler roles, while the townsfolk and local police shiftily lead Stephanie on a wild goose chase that creaks with every predictable step she takes. Even when the material does begin to take its darker turns, there's a lingering feeling of obtuseness over how exactly it reaches that point, and how Efron and his writing crew try so hard to be edgy with the film's mysterious vagueness that it forgets to intrigue on a base level. But at least we've got skin and sunshine, right?
Video and Audio:
Naturally, the Argentinean photography from And Soon the Darkness should look lush and inviting, encapsulated in a fine 2.35:1 widescreen-enhanced transfer from Anchor Bay. The varying shades of green in trees thrive in most sequences, while the sun-baked sands and weather-worn buildings offer many instances of exceptional texture clarity. Most impressive, though, is the disc's capacity to showcase depth and dimensionality to the faraway mountains, using a broad array of depth-of-field maneuvers that the disc preserves elegantly. When the color timing begins to lean towards a slate palette in the higher-contrast sequences, this crispness and stability remain in-tact. There is a bit of harshness about the detail at times, however, that can leave the image appearing a bit flat in more standard-shot sequences, which doesn't assist some flattened contours during wider shots. But, overall, it's a very fine-looking preservation of the cinematography.
Anchor Bay's Dolby Digital 5.1 track for And Soon the Darkness is actually a sparse and atmospheric affair, one that relies on the subtle effects within the film's Argentinean surroundings for its strength. Not a lot of bombastic sound-driven elements really occur in the film (until much later, and even then there's only a handful), instead zeroing in on chunks of dialogue and the way that nature's bustle backs it. Everything remains crisp and clear, balancing the highs of Yustman's vocals, Heard's more alto-leaning tone, and Urban's manly depth against it all, while the slight grinding of a bike tire on a dirt road gives just enough punch to be convincing. The standard mix of music, including some shrill piercing effects during "intense" scenes and lively pop tunes in others, sounds fine as well. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available to pair with the sole English 5.1 track.
Commentary with Marcos Efron, Editor Todd Miller, and DP Gabriel Beristain:
The trio of filmmakers get together here to discuss the bones and piece of And Soon the Darkness, revealing a lot about locational setups and their take-aback impressions of the Argentinean scenery. They discuss how they're on a few hours by plane from Buenos Aires, about an elaborate bridge they constructed to walk across a creek with equipment, and how the expounded on
Adriana Barraza's character when they discovered that she'd be participating in the film. It's standard discussion material that mostly fixates on how they orchestrated specific shots and scenes, down-tempo but insightful enough for a listen.
A Director's Video Diary (11:11, 16x9) also arrives on the disc, with some visualizations on some of the items that Efron and crew discuss in their commentary -- such as the bridge across the creek. It ratchets through topics with "title cards" in front of each, such as "Rain and Death" in discussing a rather wet day of shooting, which finds a concise rhythm of glimpses into the process of building And Soon the Darkness. Deleted Scenes (6:44, 16x9) and a Theatrical Trailer (1:52, 16x9) polish off the rest of the disc's supplements.
And Soon the Darkness steps into the thriller arena with an opportunity to craft a timely re-imagining of Robert Fuest's abduction flick, with a gorgeous Argentinean setting ideal for Gabriel Beristain's eye and two appealing actresses to boot. It can't quite find any sort of core momentum, however, to make the stock story and predictable twists-'n-turns all that intriguing, which doesn't work well for the script's neglectful attention on the characters as real entities. Sure, the well-shot locale, the formulaic-but-workable suspense storytelling, and a fraught-driven turnout from Amber Heard still make it worth a Rental, but just barely.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site