Two British nurses, Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), take a cycling holiday in rural France. They’ve planned their route out for each day and Jane pushes Cathy to stick to it, which means not stopping very often or spending much time off their bikes. Cathy wants to stop off and eat at the cafes, take in the local scenery and possibly flirt with the cute guy who seems to be following them. They ride for a while but Cathy’s incessant complaining leads to a stop at a little grove of trees. Cathy lays out a blanket and turns on the radio. Jane is itching to get back to the road for there are many miles to go before their designated stop.
After a time, the two bicker over whether or not they should get back at it. Cathy refuses to leave as it is her holiday too and she’s tired of riding. Besides, if they don’t make it to the designated city, they’ll just stop at one of the many villages along the way. Jane strongly disagrees, thinking they should stick to the plan, and besides, who knows if there will be another village? Their row gets heated and Jane gets on her bike and leaves Cathy to her sunbathing. Jane stops off at the next village. She sits at a cafe drinking her beverage and looking worriedly down the road in hopes to find Cathy coming her way. Cathy turns up her radio, rubs sunscreen on her shoulders, and strangely hangs up her spare knickers on a nearby tree. It isn’t clear whether they were wet from some unseen adventure or what. What is clear is that the camera (and presumably an unseen male hiding in the bushes), gets a clear view of her dainties.
When Cathy doesn’t turn up at the cafe, Jane goes back to the grove to find her. She doesn’t find Cathy but does find her camera lying on the ground. She goes back to the village to find help but doesn’t speak enough French to find any. Luckily, that cute guy who was following them earlier, Paul (Sandor Elès), speaks English and agrees to help her. He rides his motorcycle to the grove and then returns, stating he wants to show Jane something he found. In the grove, Paul acts very peculiar, causing Jane to become frightened and return to the village.
There, she meets a kindly older English woman who agrees to take Jane to the police. She tells Jane about the rape and murder of a pretty young blonde girl, not unlike Cathy, several years prior. Her body was found in that same grove of trees and the killer was never found. This woman is kind, but a little strange and she leers at Jane in her short shorts as she walks away.
The policeman (John Nettleton) takes off for the grove of trees leaving Jane behind with his creepy father who went deaf from the war, and possibly a little batty. Eventually, Jane returns to the grove where she finds Cathy’s undergarments buried in the dirt at which point she realizes Cathy must have been murdered.
Everyone Jane meets seems strange and menacing. Everyone is a suspect. How will she get out of this alive?
And Soon the Darkness is a very ‘70s and very British thriller. It is the very definition of a slow burn. For the first 30 minutes, the film is nothing but the two girls on their bikes riding across the French countryside talking. Even after Cathy disappears, it takes awhile for things to get really tense. Pamela Franklin plays Jane with that reserve the British are so famous for. There is none of that hysterical screaming you get in so many American horror movies. The thrills come more in the mood – a sense of oncoming dread – that in violence and gore.
It reminded me a bit of folk horror films like The Wicker Man albeit with less weird religious cult action. It primarily takes place outdoors amongst the wide-open French countryside. The landscape is very beautiful which makes the oncoming menace even more dreadful. As the tension grows, the spaces grow smaller. At one point, June finds herself trapped inside a shadowy house, then the encroaching forest, and later a small mobile home. Suddenly, what was a vast, open country has become an increasingly claustrophobic nightmare.
As someone who has lived in France and who speaks only rudimentary French, I appreciated that the film did not include subtitles during the times when the French people are speaking to Jane. It adds to the overall confusion and drama to the film. We don’t understand what they are saying in the same manner that Jane does not.
With its slow pace, And Soon the Darkness is probably not for everyone but for those who have the patience to let it unfold over its 99-minute runtime, it is quite rewarding.
Kino Lorber presents And Soon the Darkness with a brand new 4K transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Extras include two audio commentaries, one with director Robert Guest and co-writer Brian Clemens, the other by film historian Troy Howarth. Also included are radio spots and the theatrical trailer.