Monday, 27 December 2010

Remakes: And Soon the Darkness

Those who defend remakes often cite the (possible) revival of interest in the original as a result of the new movie being made. Prior to the publicity of And Soon the Darkness 2010 I had not seen nor heard of the 1970 film. I’m not the only one. It is indeed an obscurity. Since its theatrical release a generation has passed. Thus on face value it seems fit to be remade.
The premise is in the trailer: two young women go on holiday abroad where they stumble into a tourist’s worst nightmare. It’s not a revolutionary plot. It’s a story that has been told a million times before and a million times since. It is the cautionary tale “don’t go in the woods” and is the perfect premise for a thriller with horror motifs.

British girls Jane and Cathy are too old to be children and as young as adults can be. They are naïve but adventurous. Their background is middle class which places them firmly at the forefront to reap the fruits of the sexual revolution. They’re clearly from progressive families; they get to bike tour the north of France before our time of cheap flights and the Channel Tunnel.

They are of the age of sexual bloom. Cathy has discovered she’s a woman. She knows men fancy her. She’s unashamed that she fancies them. Her hair is blonde and long. Her midriff is as bare as her legs are to her thighs. She is available. She is on exploration and expedition.

Jane is dark haired cut short. That means she’s sexually reticent. She’s more interested in the experience and culture of rural France as if on a post school project. They are the yin yang pairing – where one pushes the other pulls. Due to their adolescent banter and personalities when they have a tiff and part ways it is portrayed naturally.

The whole film takes place in a natural setting. When Jane starts looking for Cathy all she encounters are the French. They don’t speak English. The odd one or two that do ask her to slow down her talking. It is easy to empathise with Jane as she struggles to make herself understood to all and sundry. She does meet an English expat; a schoolmistress whose motives seem questionable.

The woman has been in France for 15 years. She seems weird or perhaps it’s just loneliness. Why is she still in France? What is she running away from? Why hasn’t she gone back to Britain? Where is Cathy? In these high anxiety circumstances everyone’s a suspect.
Director Robert Fuest fools the audience on more than one occasion. Characters exit scenes with audience expectations that may or may not be proved justified. There are no subtitles to the abundant French dialogue. The audience is in the same darkness as Jane and the two English speakers may not be honest translators.

This film is a seduction. Fuest builds the lead character, the scenery and the circumstances. Cathy goes missing but since the audience follows Jane’s search for her there is no indication of what actually happens to Cathy. Actress Pamela Franklin excels as she convinces and distracts the viewer. She carries the film on her feminine shoulders like a thorn filled English rosebush. Fuest allows poetry in his penultimate shot.

This film bears more than a passing similarity to The Wicker Man 1973. They both are quintessentially English. They both have to deal with an incompatible culture. They share a quest to find a missing girl. They have a rousing finale. However where The Wicker Man is great And Soon the Darkness is very good. It is not a criticism. It is as accomplished a film as Black Christmas 1974.
A timeless story from 1970 should be easy to update.

Not if you’re Anchor Bay.

The original has no backstory: these are two British girls on holiday bicycling across France. The remake has two Americans bicycling in Argentina complete with expository dialogue about a former boyfriend.

The problems are immediate: why on earth would two American girls who look like Amber Heard and Odette Yustman be on bicycles? They’d look more at home on a Girls Gone Wild tour bus. Furthermore why do the writers feel the need to explain why these two girls are on vacation?

The only original contribution to this update is that the dark haired girl is the slut and the blonde is the sourpuss. Is this political correctness or acknowledgement that blonde girls have feelings too? The course of the story is cliché laden: a white American teaches a bunch of Latinos how to dance, the local boy who mistakes American flirtation for carnal desire and tries to rape her, the expat who’s gone native and every Argie in the outback can speak English.

The contrived argument that leads to the girls parting company is a forewarning of the nonsense to come. The writers have tried to sex up the original. What they’ve achieved is to make an exciting story a predictable implausible bore.

Worse is to come; where the original treated the two girls as innocents abroad this remake treats the Argentines as sweaty foreign types lusting after white women.

At least someone apologised for Turistas1 2006.
And Soon the Darkness 2010 is a nasty little flick that no one will remember in four weeks time never mind 40 years. Its one (unintentional) positive is the (possible) revival of the original.

Remakes sometime work – even if for the wrong reasons.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: The Thing
1 Turistas Wikipedia

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