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Blu-Ray Review - AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970)

And Soon the Darkness review
A young British tourist attempts to solve the mystery of her friend's disappearance in a small French village.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Fuest

Starring: Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, Sandor Elรจs, John Nettleton

And Soon the Darkness bluray




Just before the First World War, an urban legend began to spread concerning a British woman and her elderly mother who stop off in a Parisian hotel on their way home from India. The two are checked into separate rooms and decide to take a nap for the afternoon. When the younger woman wakes and knocks on her mother's door, she receives no reply, and when she asks the hotel staff, they deny ever having checked the woman in.

The legend initially inspired several literary works, but its in cinema where its legacy has lived on. It's inspired countless films, from Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes to Polanski's Frantic to the Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan. One of the best variations of the tale is director Robert Fuest's 1970 thriller And Soon the Darkness, itself remade as recently as 2010.

And Soon the Darkness review

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are a pair of young British girls taking a cycling tour of France. The current leg of their trip finds them in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to see but roads and fields that stretch out into the horizon. Following a meaningless argument, Jane cycles on to the nearest small village, leaving Cathy to sunbathe by the edge of the road.

When Cathy fails to catch up with her, Jane begins to worry. She expresses her concern to Paul (Sandor Elรจs), a mysterious and very brooding Frenchman who agrees to give her a lift back to Cathy on the back of his scooter. When they arrive at the scene, there's no sign of Cathy, and Jane begins to view Paul with a great deal of suspicion.

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Just as The Beatles were replaced by Black Sabbath on the music scene, so too did British screen culture take a dark turn in the new uncertain decade of the '70s. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the career of screenwriter Brian Clemens, who helped define our image of the camp and colourful '60s with his work on TV's The Avengers. The following decade saw him turn to the thriller genre, penning such moody chillers as And Soon the Darkness, See No Evil and his excellent ITV anthology series Thriller. And Soon the Darkness boasts several Avengers alumni in its crew. Along with Clemens we have his co-screenwriter Terry Nation, composer Laurie Johnson and director Fuest, all of whom worked to a large degree on the iconic show.

And Soon the Darkness review

Yet the tone of And Soon the Darkness couldn't be further from the day-glo camp of The Avengers. It's one of the first of many women-in-peril thrillers that would find success in the '70s, and like many of these movies, there's a reactionary element to its plot. If the movies of the '60s were a celebration of the carefree sexual revolution, the thrillers of the '70s pushed the idea that young women were being punished for enjoying such freedoms.

In many ways Fuest's film preempts the sexual dynamics of the American slashers that would arrive at the end of the decade. Franklin's Jane is an early example of the 'Final Girl' trope. She's the smart, sensitive one, and while she's pretty, she doesn't flaunt her sexuality, and you assume she's inexperienced in such matters. Conversely, Dotrice's Cathy is the classic victim, the uncultured blonde with sex constantly on her mind, who isn't afraid to show off her assets - in a '70s thriller she may as well have a dotted line tattooed on her throat reading "Cut here." Even Elรฉs' Paul marks the beginning of a very '70s horror trope, that of the mysterious male figure who behaves in a manner that keeps us guessing as to whether he's a friend or foe to our female hero. And of course the idea of sophisticated folk running into trouble in a very unsophisticated rural setting would fuel everything from Deliverance to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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Compared to the movies that would follow in its bicycle tracks, And Soon the Darkness is quite old-fashioned in its lack of bloodletting. Instead, Fuest focusses on mining tension from Jane's increasing paranoia. This is aided greatly by the decision not to subtitle any of the French dialogue. As with most viewers, Jane is far from fluent in the language, but she knows a few words - murder among them, which sets her in a panic when she hears the word dropped into a conversation in a cafรฉ. The villagers are an odd lot, and Jane's inability to communicate with them, and our own inability to understand them, leaves us guessing as to whether the girls have stumbled into some sort of local conspiracy. Even a middle-aged Englishwoman whom Jane meets seems a little off in her behaviour, displaying a receptiveness to her younger compatriot that's difficult to pin down as a symptom of either genuine concern or a predatory nature ("There's always a bed for you at my house").

And Soon the Darkness review

Fuest makes effective use of the wide open expanses of his locale. With Jane often surrounded by so much open space, it's clear that should she let out a scream, who would hear it? There's a touch of North by North West to how figures and vehicles initially appear as dots in the distance, leaving both Jane and the audience to wait until they're close enough to determine whether they're a threat or a potential saviour.

Yet for all of Fuest's impressive direction, it's Franklin's convincing performance that keeps us invested and aids the reality of the scenario. She really sells Jane's paranoia and uncertainty, and the feeling of helplessness of being in a strange land where you don't know the word for 'Help'. Despite the acclaim she received for her role in 1969's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Franklin found herself "relegated" to a host of genre thrillers in the '70s. Mainstream cinema's loss was truly the genre movie's gain.
Extras:

Two feature commentaries: one with writer Brian Clemens and director Robert Fuest, the other with film historian Troy Howarth; video interview with critic Kim Newman.

And Soon the Darkness is on blu-ray and DVD October 14th from Studiocanal.






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