And Soon the Darkness: “the horror of language barriers?”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Two young English girls, Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) have gone on a biking holiday to France, and not the parts of France you’d normally holiday, this is the back end of beyond with nothing for miles but fields and country roads. Jane and Cathy have an argument about the fact that there just isn’t anything to do, so they split up to cool off. Jane heads to the nearest place with people and Cathy stays on the side of the road. Jane has a rudimentary understanding of French, so when she finally meets some people all she knows about that stretch is that it is a “bad road” and something “worse than murder” happened there. Heading back to where they separated, she finds her friend missing. If Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness was made between 2006 and 2012, we’d be talking about a torture porn movie in which “rural, foreign types” inflict horrific violence upon the young girls. That is how Eli Roth made his name after all, and it is a real backbone of the french extremism movement than intertwines with torture horror. Luckily, it wasn’t made then, instead, it was made at the height of British horror in 1970.
What and soon the darkness actually is, is a suspense/mystery thriller in which Jane looks for her friend in an area where everyone behaves incredibly suspiciously. Before this, the only genre movie that I could describe as linguistic is Bruce McDonald’s under-appreciated Pontypool (2008). Going into why McDonald’s movie is based around language would require me to derail this article, so instead, I’ll keep it brief by saying it positions language as the tool for a viral outbreak.
Fuest tackles that idea from a very different perspective. As I mentioned previously, Jane has a very crude understanding of French, so in the searching for her friend she meets a variety of people who have limited grasp of English and even more troubling all of them behave suspiciously, like they either know something that they aren’t willing nor have the capacity to explain or they are involved somehow. I do wonder how this plays with a french speaking audience, and whether the suspense is still as potent. Anyway, when Jane meets someone willing to help and speaks English, he (Sandor Eles (Paul)) is just as suspicious – much to the point that it is heavily implied that he may actually be responsible. It all culminates in the type of finale that would later be co-opted by slashers on the other side of the Atlantic, climaxing in a major misunderstanding and attempted rape.
You could debate that the movie’s approach to foreigners is a bit backward in today’s political climate, however, I like to think this functions more impressively as an exercise in misunderstanding. If they all spoke the same language, this situation wouldn’t happen, or at the very least the tension would be completely circumcised. Much in the same way that modern slashers have to come up with contrivances so mobile phones are taken out of play or the film itself is set in a time before they factored into modern life. Actually, in another life, this could also be a slasher.
And Soon the Darkness is using one of the most common tropes in all of horror – the outsider and removes it all of the artifices to create a very real and very relatable situation. And within that, it places a young vulnerable woman. A trope of the few British horror titles of the time that diverted away from the monsters that Hammer had concerned themselves with, again, like with Fright, that tidbit comes courtesy of a brilliant video interview with Kim Newman.
Location scouting, lighting and sound are all key tools in the crafting of horror, all of which are deviated away from. This takes place in a series of fields and country roads in the middle of the day and Laurie Johnson’s musical compositions are used sparingly. To my recollection, very few British horror titles take place exclusively during the day – Psychomania, the Shout and maybe the Witchfinder General, too. Horror during the day is an equally rare concept in world horror too, as such it will be a hard sell for many. Sure, this is a very well made and an even better-acted piece based on the concepts of isolation, language barriers and trust. Unfortunately for many, the slow, deliberate pacing and removing the inherent trait that the best horror hides in the dark will be hard barriers to bypass. Personally, I was never less than totally engaged with this [near] lost low-budget thriller riffing on the tales told in the most isolated corners of the countryside.
AND SOON THE DARKNESS IS OUT NOW ON STUDIO CANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS BLU-RAY