Pretty girls. Pretty girls
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.