Sinister Sojourns


    Isn’t the best part about movie remakes comparing them against the original? Or given that today’s moviemakers take such license, the “source material.” Title and characters remain unchanged but the newer efforts detour and slalom moments after the premise has been established.

    Recently the 2010 remake of And Soon the Darkness lent me an opportunity to see how far storytelling has advanced. My interest in both films stems from a distinctly modern actress, Amber Heard. She’d been a bunny on NBC’s short-lived Playboy Club. Maybe that program would still be in production if Frank Ballinger from M Squad, and Crime Story‘s Mike Torello and Ray Luca (all characters from TV series also set in early 1960s Chicago) had run tabs there.

    Heard filled out her bunny costume and shook her tail nicer than I remembered happening inside the actual clubs themselves. Of course today I have much greater appreciation of such nuances.

    These days, I can separate women from their costumes. Read that however you like.

    Forty years earlier, the first version of And Soon the Darkness appeared onscreen. No doubt it disturbed a less jaded public deeper than its successor. Unlike the 2010 incarnation, the 1970 effort promoted an undercurrent of minor deviance. The kind which hopefully prompted a good deal of edge of seats sitting and lip licking.

    Early scenes hinted at Sapphic possibilities. Yet like the good tease it was those never delivered.

    Pamela Franklin portrayed 1970’s perplexed damsel in distress. She embodied her era of starlets much as Heard does ours. However, the road Franklin traveled into womanhood dramatically improved her.

    A year before, Franklin had been a member of an ensemble forming the “girls” in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Rightly recalled, this was the vehicle which propelled Maggie Smith into the first rank of actresses. That’s right. The same Maggie Smith whose sharp tongue has elbow strength on PBS’ Downton Abbey. Before she became a dowager, Smith preyed upon cultivated but ultimately weak men.

    One must squint to recognize the Franklin of Miss Jean Brodie in the 1970 And Soon the Darkness. In a short year, the rangy schoolgirl had ripened into a peachy young woman. Franklin’s role in the second feature should’ve connived an opportunity to serve as a life model as she had in Miss Jean Brodie.

    Adam Ant sang it best in Strip, “… We wish we had not so many clothes.”

    Heard, playing the Franklin role, has been aerobicized into a lean, shimmering tomboy. It’s hard recognizing the soft, curvy woman who’d later be swiping members Playboy Club keys. Between her two roles, only Heard’s blonde hair remained constant.

    Both editions basically start the same. Two women on a biking holiday have a dopey disagreement which forces their separation. The conscientious traveler suffers a pang, reverses her path, and seeks her companion. But the retracing comes up empty. The other cyclist has vanished.

    Cordial but tight-lipped townsfolk abound in both movies. The sort of people whose demeanors alone should alert wary tourists. But isn’t the roster of oblivious holidaymakers infinite? Especially in movies.

    In Heard’s update, the cyclists are Americans in Argentina. Franklin’s has two Britons touring through France profound. From hereon the movies diverge.

    The American version skips suggestion for outright aggression. One of our girls is on the make. She’s aware of the allure gringas have over simple suramericanos studs. Larking, she toys with one. Always a bad idea. Naturally this flirtation ends badly. But should this incident presage troubles? Guess.

    Britons in France do not incite the same sort of frisson. Sorry.

    Two bosomy, plush-bottomed English girls speaking spotty, at best, French don’t become premeditated prey for a predator or predators because they’re naïve. Instead, random opportunity may or may not claim a victim. Or two.

    Since the 1970 version is a thriller, one unwinding under the clearest of summer days, in the most bucolic terrain, viewers are unsure of the menace. That is whether any exists. The first And Soon the Darkness offers what could be misunderstandings and misconnections. Through this plausibility, let’s say through misadventure suspense builds.

    The American version jumps into worst fears founded. For me, at least, the direction of this story was set after learning where the Americans toured. They wheeled within smelling distance of the Triple Frontier.

    Named for the border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay share, this congenital no-man’s land hosts smugglers, white slavers, drug traffickers, wild-eyed pistol-wavers, and probably a few most wanted terrorists. Perfect playground for them because relative to the three countries there’s little law inside that cauldron. What justice exists is ad hoc. Especially in Paraguay.

  Why, I know Argentines who won’t venture into Paraguay, much less any portion of the Triple Frontier. Doesn’t matter the caliber of revolvers in their car glove compartments or the thickness of their bribe wads. Just can’t make ’em go. 

    Therefore, aware of the Americans’ location, the arrival of bad news and criminal behavior was imminent. Naturally the sleeker update lacked subtlety. Rape, kidnapping, torture, forced imprisonment, a body count, sure. But ambiguity? Mounting terror? Not quite.

    With a little jiggering, the second version might’ve risen above aimless violence covering an anemic script. Added effort could’ve turned this into something approaching noir.

    There’s a sequence in the second version’s last third which transpires inside an abandoned factory. Who knew what it manufactured? Maybe genuine Antoni Gaudi knockoffs.

    The site desolate, deserted, southern hemisphere shadows seemingly seared onto pastels, the heroine dogged but unsure, man, this portion should’ve been revelatory and spooky. Instead, uninspired, atmospherics are wasted. Heard beelines into the usual tired triumphal mayhem. Roll credits.

    The end is where the 1970 And Soon the Darkness outclassed its homage. It concluded with deft, short, sharp scenes whose fadeout suggested a calm continuity belying the preceding violence. As if summer had never been disturbed.

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