Terrifying Tuesday: And Soon the Darkness (1970)

I will never go to France. Well, I suppose that is I will never go back to France. Yes, I’ve been there before, smelled the odor of Paris, walked on the damnable rocks lined beaches of Nice, and avoided anything that had a legend attached to it that would bring me back there someday. Then top that off with the new wave of French horror, High Tension, Frontiers, and Martyrs, et al., and I’m pretty sure I’m better off staying put. Seeing as I’m not going anywhere, I thought I might put on a little film suggested by one of your Lair-ers out there. It’s a film full of mystery, thrills, ……

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And Soon the Darkness (1970) starring Pamela Franklin, Sandor Elès, John Nettleton, and Michele Dotrice. soon2Directed by Robert Fuest.

Two young nurses on holiday, Cathy and Jane (Dotrice and Franklin) are on a cycling trip along the back roads of France. Jane is focused and determined, full of plans and destinations, but Cathy wants to meet people and have a more leisurely trip. After having an argument about how to spend their time, the girls split up, but when Jane gets to feeling guilty about ditching her friend, she goes back to find her. When she arrives back at the woods where they split up, Cathy is nowhere to be found. With her friend missing, with no one to turn too, Jane accepts help from the mysterious Paul. He claims to be an agent of the French secret service, but Jane is unsure of that and what he might know about Cathy’s disappearance.

The Bugg Picture

soon1This film came to my attention though a comment from one of my longtime regular readers who I affectionately refer to as the Snob. Now the Snob, who is a Brit, vehemently despises British films, so I was a bit surprised when he recommended this film helmed by Robert Frust, the former Director and Writer for the British spy series The Avengers. However, it does take place in France rather than the UK, and it does feature a couple of foxy ladies which I know the Snob appreciates. Before I get into talking about the film, I want to send my thanks out to the Snob for bringing this one to my attention.

Without further ado, let’s get to the heart of the matter. And Soon the Darkness is a picture perfect example of how effective camera work, acting, and musical cues can all come together to make for a thrilling ride. In spite of the title, none of this film occurs under the cover of night. Instead, the events unfold in the wide open spaces of the bright, sunny French countryside. Unlike most thrillers that rely on claustrophobia and shadow as shorthand to prove the danger lurking around every corner, And Soon the Darkness make the daytime and wide open spaces scary. Ian Wilson, the cinematographer who would later work on The Crying Game and Count Kronos- Vampire Hunter, gives the film an eerie feeling with long shots of deserted roads and intimate, well captured close-ups.

Thankfully, the main feature of those close ups is often Pamela Franklin. Ms. Franklin delivers a stirring and_duoperformance as Jane. Many quiet scenes are played out with Pamela being the only performer in the scene, and she perfectly conveys Jane’s decent into paranoia as she digs deeper into the mystery. As an added bonus, she is quite fetching, and the red corduroy short shorts she wears throughout the film deserved to be framed and preserved for future generations. I would never have guesses that Franklin would have become such a fox when I saw her play the wild eyed Flora in The Innocents.

From foxes, let’s turn to snakes. Sandor Elès really fills his role as a moped riding suspected murderer who may or may not be a cop. I also rather liked John Nettleton as the local policeman who gets on the case. Both do an excellent job, but Nettleton’s turn may well be more impressive. Much of the film, and almost all of Nettleton’s lines, are delivered in French without the aid of subtitles. I think this is quite effective in forcing the audience to pay attention to tone and body language to understand the character, and it adds an extra layer of tension. Like Jane, who does not speak French, anyone without a grasp on French (like me) is left wondering what is being said. I would be interested to know what a French speaker felt about the film, and if knowing what is being said enhances the film or takes away from the mystery. As I’ve already alienated any French readers I had with my opening paragraph, I’ll have to hope for some kindly Canadian to clue me in.
302254708_d01da31c6aLaurie Johnson, who also scored Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, provides a great score during the film that enhances the tension created by the camerawork and acting. Now I say during the film because And Soon the Darkness is book ended by an extremely peppy theme which belies the thriller caught in it’s midst. It sounds like a theme that might be used for a good time road movie, and perhaps this is what Johnson intended as the film opens peacefully enough with shots of the girls leisurely biking along. While I might be able to see that logic, in the end, I really didn’t like it. I like a theme to set the tone of the film to follow, and this one didn’t fit the bill.
One last thing before I bring this to an end. I really didn’t expect this film to have soondarkness4any kind of connection to the recent Star Trek film, but, like just about everything else, And Soon the Darkness is being remade. This time the setting has been moved from France to Argentina, and it stars Karl Urban, the new McCoy, and Amanda Beard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane). I’m not a big fan of remakes, but I do think that this film has a compelling story that would be fertile ground for another version. I just hope they don’t jazz the film up and keep it as a simple quiet story. There’s not much chance of that I suppose, and I really expect something more akin to 1997’s Kurt Russell debacle Breakdown.
So before they get the remake out, do yourself a favor and check out the original. It’s a film which will satisfy the most hardened lover of thrillers. Plus hot English chicks dressed in early ‘70’s fashion in peril, come on, who doesn’t want to see that?