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There is an unexpected amount of talent involved in And Soon the Darkness, which could easily otherwise be considered a throwaway exploitation B-picture from late 60’s/early 70’s cinema, yet makes it a surprisingly effective piece of suspense.

The script is co-written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, for a start. Clemens was one of the key producers involved in developing cult 1960’s TV series The Avengers and would go on in the 70’s to develop horror and suspense tales on ITV with his successful series Thriller, becoming a major producing name in the process. Nation, famously, would create not just Blake’s-7 but also the legendary Daleks, Doctor Who’s most iconic race of villains who have become a key popular culture touchstone in science-fiction television over the last half century. Composer Laurie Johnson also created the well-known Avengers theme while director Robert Fuest was also ported over from the same show.

And Soon the Darkness therefore benefits from an array of talented individuals putting their talents to use on what otherwise is quite a stripped back, simple concept. Two young nurses on holiday, Jane & Cathy, played by Pamela Franklin (previously nominated for an BAFTA for her role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and Michele Dotrice (daughter of Shakespearean stage actor Roy, sister of Disney child darling Karen, and eventual sitcom star as Betty Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em with Michael Crawford), are cycling through the empty, northern French countryside and when one of them disappears, the other finds herself alone and surrounded by mysterious, shady locals in her efforts to discover the truth about what may have become of her.

Though not quite Hitchcockian in its construction and thrills, And Soon the Darkness uses this pedigree to construct a tale which steadily and quite skilfully unfurls.

You might imagine that And Soon the Darkness could descend into exploitation but that doesn’t exactly happen. Fuest’s film is more interested in the intrigue than the savagery.

Yet many of the key tropes of both the exploitation horror and indeed slasher genres are in evidence here, if even if they aren’t utilised in the manner later films would employ. Jane and Cathy are isolated, virginal to an extent, ultimately separated and more vulnerable, and Fuest front-loads the film with a consistent dread; even the title forebodes something that we never actually see. We are meant to spend the film constantly on edge that Jane or Cathy are about to savaged and the film consistently wrong foots us, employing an Agatha Christie-esque ensemble of supporting players in the French countryside who are all suspects in Cathy’s disappearance – the cafe owner, the old farmer, the British schoolmistress.

Chief on that list is Sandor Eles, a mysterious, handsome stranger who looks like he just walked off the set of a Jean-Luc Godard movie. And Soon the Darkness here displays some of its French New Wave inspirations, taking the elegant Alain Delon template and inverting it. Surely the beautiful Gallic man who Cathy fancies can’t be the killer? The film twists and turns the implications and hints as Jane increasingly has no idea who to trust. Equally, Fuest’s film does a good job in depicting the isolation of this stretch of France – sun-dappled but open, quiet, fields and roads stretching to the horizon, little villages, small clusters of trees. It feels threatening even in daylight, especially as Jane & Cathy can’t speak the language of the locals. It taps into the fear of being lost abroad, culturally and practically, leaving you open to manipulation or worse.

It perhaps twists a shade too often in the final act but by then, And Soon the Darkness has earned its stripes and has been compelling enough to warrant sticking with it through to the end. StudioCanal have unearthed a quiet suspense gem here, throwing some strong extras into the bargain – a fine interview with film scholar Kim Newman about its broader place in horror and British film history, and two audio commentary tracks; one with Clemens and Fuest from before their deaths (in 2015 and 2012 respectively) and another with film scholar Troy Howarth, both of which add plenty to the enjoyment of the film from different angles.

And Soon the Darkness is a fine piece of early 70’s suspense and deserves to be rediscovered.

★★★1/2

And Soon the Darkness is now available on BluRay from StudioCanal.

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