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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

AND SOON THE DARKNESS -- DVD review by porfle

One of the perennial subsets of the "thriller" genre is the story about a desperate person frantically searching for their companion who has disappeared without a trace, usually in an unfamiliar location. Whether it's a big-screen affair with major stars (THE VANISHING, BREAKDOWN) or a tense little made-for-TV nailbiter with a meager budget (DYING ROOM ONLY), such films have the potential for keeping viewers on the edge of their seats if done with a little finesse.  Once it gets cranked up, AND SOON THE DARKNESS (2010) manages to do so to a certain degree, although the experience isn't quite worth going out of your way for.

Steph (Amber Heard, ExTERMINATORS, DROP DEAD SEXY) and Ellie (Odette Yustman, OPERATION: ENDGAME, CLOVERFIELD) are two flaky American girls who have ditched their bicycle tour group and decided to see Argentina for themselves.  Wandering into the Village of Bad Vibes, they seem oblivious to the apprehensive stares of the locals who regard them as though the two cutie-pie strangers might vanish from the face of the earth at any moment.  Which, we find, isn't an uncommon occurrence in those parts.

Since their bus doesn't leave until the next morning, they decide to hit one of the local night spots.  Steph, the marginally-sensible member of the duo, is concerned when Ellie gets dopey drunk and starts prancing around in front of all the guys like she's dropping a chum line in a pool of sharks.  Acting out the song "I Touch Myself" in front of the jukebox, she then breezes into the men's room and proceeds to take a whiz in front of whoever happens to be in there.

Amazingly, this is a character we're supposed to care about.  We pretty much know what's going to happen to her, yet she's such an obnoxious, irresponsible doofus that the prospect doesn't generate much concern.  Naturally, she attracts the attention of an unsavory type who might as well wear a name tag with "Kidnapped American Girls 'R' Us" printed on it.

One thing leads to another, and before you know it Steph is searching high and low for her missing friend.  Naturally, the local constable, Calvo (César Vianco) scoffs at her concerns, forcing Steph to start scouring the countryside on her own.  Enter Michael (Karl Urban, STAR TREK), an American who seems to turn up everywhere she goes.  Michael offers to help, but we're never sure if he's on the level or if he's going to turn out to be in league with the kidnappers.  This makes his character one of the few things about the story that isn't totally predictable. 

Urban does his usual solid acting job, but the actresses portraying Steph and Ellie aren't going to be mistaken for Dame Judi Dench anytime soon.  Their wafer-thin dialogue isn't much to listen to either, especially during the silly spat which causes them to unwisely split up in the first place.  Amber Heard manages to carry the lightweight film pretty much on her own--she appears in nearly every scene--using a variety of pained expressions while frequently rubbing her hands over her head to denote concern.

Director Marcos Efron does a workmanlike job and wrings as much suspense out of the script as he can while capturing some nice Argentine scenery along the way.  The highlight is a sequence filmed inside an actual ghost town called Lago Epecuén, which was destroyed by a flood and consists entirely of gutted ruins.  Somewhat implausibly, it takes Steph about ten minutes to find this place and stumble onto the kidnappers' hideout.  This sets into motion a series of fights, chases, standoffs, and narrow escapes leading to a fairly exciting finish.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a commentary track with the director, editor, and DOP, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and a trailer.

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is based on a 1970 British film written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation and directed by Robert Fuest, which I'd be interested in seeing now that I've watched the passable but unexceptional remake.  It's the kind of time-waster that can hold your attention till the fadeout, then vanish from your memory without a trace.

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