Stupidity in a Foreign Country Gets You This

Movie Review: And Soon the Darkness (2010)
Spoilers: none

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The original 1970 film And Soon the Darkness has fallen out of memory and into obscurity. For that reason alone, its remake is not only justifiable, but arguably worthwhile. Beats pointlessly recreating what everyone already knows and loves about the classics of their choice.

As in the first film with the same title, the story is of two females who travel to a foreign country for leisure. In the original British version, that country was France. Here, it is Argentina where two privileged and naïve white girls travel around in a part of the world where the kidnapping, selling, raping, and murdering businesses are booming.

You have two unwise girls, stupidly flaunting the fact that they are unaccompanied by anyone else, lightly packed, and not fluent in the local language—no way that's going to get attention from those who might, say, take advantage of them? Nah, surely not. And it surely won't encourage the situation with one of them in particular being overly flirtatious with the local gentry, thanks to alcohol.

But let's not forget: It is damn hard for a beautiful girl abduction movie to go wrong. A lot has to be wrong to kill the appeal of seeing a helpless heroine fight to escape her cruel captor(s). No, it’s not going to take home any awards, but And Soon the Darkness doesn't get a whole lot wrong and should, I believe, be put on that nonchalantly created list of movies to watch when it comes on TV and you find yourself bored out of your mind on some uneventful weekday afternoon. 

When we meet the two main characters, Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Ellie (Odette Yustman), they seem like nice enough girls we would want to care about. But we have almost no feelings for them after we see their bar-frequenting habits and when we hear a sweet woman, Rosemaria (Adriana Barraza), who works at the hotel they are staying at ask them if they are traveling alone. You get the distinct feeling from the question that doing so is a bad idea. 

So the girls are stupid, and bad things happen to stupid people. That means you no longer want to care about them. Then along comes a groping, drinking, controlling man who gets aggressive, Chucho (Michel Noher), when Ellie refuses to “put out” for him. In comes Michael (Karl Urban) to help out by putting the jerk in his place. Now all the main characters have been introduced except for the most dynamic one, Calvo (Cesar Vianco), an Argentina police officer who will be sought out for help when Ellie goes missing.

Briefly parting ways after a fight, when Stephanie comes back, Ellie is nowhere to be found. Her cell phone is found left behind. Another day is coming to a close. What has happened to Stephanie’s best friend? She’s out there, alone in a strange land, deserted by a friend who obviously was the victim of one too many in a series of really bad “brain-farts” that caused her to make the knuckle-headed decision to leave her friend in the first place. And it sucks barely being able to communicate in a country known for kidnapping, where even the bad guys mock you for leaving your best friend alone and unprotected in a foreign country.

The acting may be a bit stilted at the opening, but this isn't a crippling problem. To its credit, people behave in very logical ways, and without too many dramatic embellishments or rash actions to uphold a farfetched plot. The simplicity of it is as beautiful as our main characters. When Ellie goes missing, the police are called. When a stranger (Michael) catches up with Stephanie and offers to help her find her friend, she remains suspicious of him, even while thanking him for running off the jerk from the previous night.

There are some pacing difficulties, but they disappear quickly to allow the latter half of the film a sliver of suspense to sufficiently hold interest. The low-budget feel, in this case, actually serves to remind the viewer that the humble and internet-less surroundings of these tin shacks and un-air-conditioned restaurants are not home. You don't feel as comfortable when you’re not at home, especially when you're a foreigner in a place not your own, ripe for being taken advantage of.

The unexpectedly small-time slave trade operations of very poorly organized slave traders are a somewhat life-like indication of just how far the American dollar goes in certain impoverished places of the world. $6,000 for a virgin with blond hair? Hell, I'm speechless.

The movie goes to ridiculously short lengths to showcase any given aspect of itself. Are we working with an impoverished budget here? You would think, with the little effort that is put into showcasing the struggles of abduction or the inflicting of pain – things that horror fans usually want to see more of – though what is shown can arguably be called sufficient for the rest of us who appreciate a good thriller over a good horror.

And that is the good news I leave you with; the unpredictable and disturbing turn of events and the ability of director Marcos Efron to construct characters that read body language and take hints and act like (dare we say) normal people is present here whilst absent from so many other abduction horror flicks.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for some violence, rape, and brief torture)
Director: Marcos Efron
Summary: When two American girls on a bike trip in a remote part of Argentina split up and one of them goes missing, the other must find her before her worst fears are realized.
Starring: Amber Heard "Stephanie," Odette Yustman "Ellie," Karl Urban "Michael," Gia Mantegna "Camila," Adriana Barraza "Rosamaria," César Vianco "Calvo," Michel Noher "Chucho"
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Trailer

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