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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » And Soon the Darkness (2010) (Blu-ray)
And Soon the Darkness (2010) (Blu-ray)
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // December 28, 2010 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 15, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Looking at the cover art for And Soon the Darkness, I'm starting to think I can skip the whole plot summary routine this time around. Pretty much everything you need to know is right there:



Pretty girls. Pretty girls
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
in bikinis. Girl running frantically through the woods. Girl de-pantsed, chained-up, and screaming in a dingy basement or something. Karl Urban coyly looking off to the side. The cover art for most movies are usually just shouting "buy me! buy me! buy me!"; this one tells a story.

Worked for me, at least. I knew absolutely nothing about And Soon the Darkness beforehand, let alone the fact that it's a remake of a British suspense flick from forty years back. All I knew is what you see plastered on the cover there, that it looked pretty horror-suspense-y, and that I'm a cheap date for anything starring Amber Heard or Odette Yustman. Put the two of 'em in one movie and it's a done deal.

And Soon the Darkness is set in a sleepy, remote little town in Argentina: the last leg of a cycling trip that lifelong-BFFs Ellie (Odette Yustman) and Stephanie (Amber Heard) have taken together. They were part of a group, but they got bored and split off on their own, and things have been nothing but great up to this point even though their Spanish is limited to what little they've picked up from Sesame Street and dinners at Chi-Chi's. There's nothing about this speck on the map that screams out to send a postcard back home, but that's okay. All they need is a bed to sleep on and an alarm clock to wake 'em up in time to catch the bus outta there the next morning.

Oops! Stephanie may be all buttoned down and responsible, but Ellie is more the Girls Gone Wild type. Shots: woo! There's an I-guess-he's-a-sexy-South-American-guy: woo! These two crazy kids are going at it hot and heavy outside while Stephanie tries in vain to catch a few winks, and when Ellie decides she's had enough fun for the night, it all goes south. Boy Toy's pissed. The girls are scared too shitless to notice that the alarm clock got unplugged during that whole ordeal. Oh well. There's not another bus till the next morning, and since they're stuck in El Middle de Nowhere, Argentina, the two of 'em try to make the best of it. They trot out on their bikes to sunbathe in the one place the innkeeper (Adriana Barraza) ominously told them not to go, and...well, something bad happens. Otherwise, it wouldn't be much of a movie, right?

Stephanie knows that Ellie has been kidnapped. I mean, look at the ground: that's her cell phone, and I'm guessing those spatters of blood over there are hers too. The cops blow Stephanie off. We're talking about a ditzy,
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
booze-crazed, twentysomething foreigner: she'll stumble back in sooner or later. The girls had just had a spat anyway. Fill out this form and pay no attention to that wall plastered with dozens of missing persons fliers, every last one of whom happen to be young, foxy brunettes who look eerily like Ellie. Stephanie sets out to find her BFF herself, but who can she trust? What few people will speak to her clearly know more than they're willing to tell. There's another American in town (Karl Urban) who's eager to lend a hand, but he always seems to show up at just the right time, and that quickly starts to seem a little too convenient. I could keep going, but you know how this song goes.

The most frustrating thing about And Soon the Darkness is its refusal to take any chances. The screenplay has dog-eared pretty much every last page in the Big Book of Thriller Clichés, and it sticks unwaveringly to the same stale, familiar formula you've trudged through a couple hundred times before. Pre-credits torture, a half-hour of getting to know the lead girls, lots of ominous, serious supporting characters saying lots of ominous, serious things, pretty much everyone is acting suspicious enough to be complicit in Ellie's eventual kidnapping...there's a disinterested cop over there, the potential love interest who may or may not be a bad guy, a weepy backstory, the truck that conveniently won't start as the badnik's bearing down, knocking down her attacker but not beating the fucking shit out of him once he's helpless...there's very little to set And Soon the Darkness apart from everything else in the Thriller/Suspense racks at Blockbuster. What does work, though...? The film takes full advantage of its Argentine backdrop, for one. There's an exotic allure here that could never be captured by shooting in a Californian desert or whatever, and the direction and cinematography are sharp enough to never gloss over that. After the dark, dingy assault that opens the movie, I was expecting And Soon the Darkness to be another twentysomething-tourists-being-tortured flick like Hostel or Turistas. I'm glad to see that it's really not. The body count is low, and no one's maimed or carved apart into bloody, fist-sized chunks. The attacks can be intense -- there are definitely some very solid jolts here -- but And Soon the Darkness views itself as a thriller, not sticky, exploitative torture-porn. The movie's better for it too. I like the voyeuristic camerawork quite a lot, and the intercutting of Stephanie's search and Ellie being dragged through the brush is particularly effective.

Amber Heard and Odette Yustman don't play characters so much as cardboard cutout archetypes, lacking anything resembling a personality. Ellie is The Wild
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One!, screwing anything with three legs, writhing around in a dive bar to "I Touch Myself", and making oodles of suggestive comments to her BFF that are especially giggle-worthy now that Amber Heard has come out. Stephanie, meanwhile, is The Repressed, Responsible Good Girl...the type to deliver lines like "you know, we're close to that river that used to be Argentina's main trade route into Paraguay" with a straight face. Because both girls are so thinly sketched, the flick can be kind of a slog whenever nothing thriller-esque is happening. Ellie and Stephanie are nice to look at -- and yeah, there are plenty of long, leering shots at exposed midriffs and bikinis -- but it just feels like they're going through the motions. If I really don't care about the characters, it's kinda hard to care what happens to 'em. Karl Urban is stuck playing more of a plot device than an actual character too, and his arc is on one hand really predictable and on the other kind of nonsensical. It's kind of hard to explain why without swandiving into spoilers, but the short version is that he's in the wrong country entirely if this is what he's after and ought to know it too. There's a decision he's forced to make at one point that's meant to carry some intense dramatic weight but falls completely flat, and the ticking clock hinted at in the film's title doesn't ramp up the tension the way it ought to either. As accomplished as so much the cinematography is throughout And Soon the Darkness, I'll admit to being disappointed by the frantic chase leading up to the climax: underlit, excessively tightly framed, and so awkwardly edited that I couldn't tell what the hell was going on, exactly. The meat of the climax is far better staged than that, at least.

At the end of the day, I'm just about completely indifferent towards And Soon the Darkness. I certainly don't regret watching it -- pretty girls, beautiful cinematography, and a few solid jolts are enough to get a thumbs-up out of me -- but the screenplay is a paint-by-numbers thriller. It's aggressively routine, with the exact same characters and exact same premise executed in the exact same way as hundreds upon hundreds of movies that've aired on USA on sleepy Sunday afternoons. And Soon the Darkness is okay and worth a rental, but especially since I already feel like I've watched it fortysomething times before, I can't really see myself wanting to give this disc another spin anytime soon. Rent It.


Video
As And Soon the Darkness first opens, the photography seems nicked from the same playbook as Haute Tension, Hostel, and the rest of the grueling torture-horror crowd: harsh contrast, a pronounced gritty texture, a dingy palette... All of that is immediately hacked apart once the movie proper begins. A thin sheen of film grain is still visible but doesn't dominate in nearly that same way...the weight of it all is warm, natural, and filmic, showing no signs of being smeared away through overzealous digital noise reduction. The muddy browns of the opening sequence make way for a lush and vivid palette, showcasing the breathtaking natural beauty of Argentina. The saturation is drained away once Ellie is snatched, and as the third act approaches, And Soon the Darkness is practically monochromatic. I'd hope it'd go without saying that this is completely intentional. Detail and clarity are both exceptionally strong throughout. There predictably isn't any trace of wear or speckling, and I couldn't spot any hiccups in the compression, artificial ringing around edges, or any flaws at all, really. Don't settle for the DVD just because it's a few bucks less; this is a drop-dead gorgeous presentation and screams out to be experienced in high-def.

Between the movie and its handful of extras, And Soon the Darkness just barely spills over onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc. Nice to see that no corners were cut to get it to fit on a single layer disc. And Soon the Darkness is presented on Blu-ray at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and the video has been encoded with AVC.


Audio
And Soon the Darkness' striking visual presentation is bolstered further by this very effective 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. The sound design places much of its emphasis on establishing a sense of mood and atmosphere, and the mix is littered with smooth, subtle pans from one channel to the next as well as numerous discrete effects. It's not overly flashy and rarely draws attention to itself, but this is a soundtrack that was very clearly designed with six-channel sound in mind, and the result can be remarkably immersive. The design impresses the most as Ellie is being hunted on the beach, with the mix encircling and stalking its prey. And Soon the Darkness ratchets up the tension with its expansive dynamics, playing out some of its most intense sequences in near-total silence before swooping in for the attack. Every last element in the mix is rendered cleanly and distinctly, and it's all impressively full-bodied to boot. The low-end can be thunderous, and although I'd generally chalk that up as a win, there's one dialogue-heavy sequence where the pounding bass in the score left me wishing I could just mash the Fast Forward button for a bit. That one brief scene is really the only gripe I have. Otherwise, this is a very impressive effort and should easily outclass the lossy Dolby Digital audio from the DVD.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but And Soon the Darkness does serve up subtitle streams in English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
  • Deleted Scenes (7 min.; SD): Most of the footage in this reel of deleted scenes are small extensions: a little chatter about the Dirty War, Ellie trying to hop a fence, Karl Urban leering, the girls sunbathing by a waterfall...inessential and wisely trimmed to tighten the whole thing up. The lengthiest of these scenes is an uncomfortable conversation with a garbage scavenger who seemed poised to be a key player in the flick but never really appeared again in the final cut.

  • Director's Video Diary (11 min.; SD): Oh, I
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    couldn't help but laugh as director Marcos Efron starts talking about "natural beauty" just as his video diary cuts to a close-up of Odette Yustman's half-exposed ass. This reel of behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Efron is pretty terrific overall, moving more nimbly and teeming with more personality than the promotional featurettes that usually litter discs like this. A Segway Steadicam rig, a rapid-fire montage of all the deaths in the flick being filmed, the ingenuity of the crew in creating these sets with little time or money, and showing how the cast and crew spent their downtime: it's quick but very much worth a look, and I think I'd point to it as the best of the extras on this disc.

  • Audio Commentary: And Soon the Darkness' commentary track is pretty easy to miss, buried under the 'Setup' menu and hidden from view unless you start scrolling. I'm not really sure if it's worth digging through a couple of menus to track down, though. It's not that there's anything wrong with this track, which features director Marcos Efron, editor Todd E. Miller, and director of photography Gabriel Beristain. There's a consistently steady flow of conversation, and it's upbeat and personable in the way I usually like. I just didn't find myself scribbling down all that many highlights. They say a lot, the three of them are perfectly likeable, and they delve deeper than the cursory skim that weaker commentaries are usually saddled with, but there's not much that makes me think "yes! Yes, I'm glad I set aside an hour and a half to give this a listen." It's better left playing in the background.

    Still, I did enjoy hearing some of the detailed notes about the cinematography, such as its European influence and exploring the use of different film stocks. Efron particularly likes to discuss where in Argentina certain sequences were filmed, which shots were added after principal photography had wrapped, and touching on the backstories that are suggested but not explicitly stated throughout the film. I feel as if I should like this commentary a lot more than I do, but my kneejerk reaction is that I can take it or leave it.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def theatrical trailer. Oh, and for anyone keeping track at home, there are also plugs for Let Me In and The Disappearance of Alice Creed.

The Final Word
This remake of And Soon the Darkness has a few checks in the "win!" column for sure. It's appreciated that the movie doesn't veer off into torture porn the way I was expecting, the photography of its Argentine backdrop is frequently striking, and then there are those two pretty, pretty girls in the lead. Still, the whole thing is bogged down by a screenplay that careens head-on into pretty much every thriller cliché you can rattle off, and don't keep your fingers crossed for characterization any deeper than "Spring break WOO!" or Chaste-Repressed-Reluctant-Heroine-Final-Girl-Type. There are a few solid jolts, but all in all, And Soon the Darkness is a little too okay to scream out for a $25-$30 purchase. Worth a rental, tho'. Rent It.
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