And Soon the Darkness (1970)

Directed by Robert Fuest Stars Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice and Sandor Eles

I’ll say right up front that I loved this film though I have some issues with it. First: what I love about it. Simple enough premise, two English nurses go on holiday to bicycle through France. Cathy soon tires of bicycling all day and becomes increasingly recalcitrant. She wants to mingle with people. She’s done with the countryside. She’s going to rest. With reluctance, Jane leaves her behind, assuming that she’ll catch up in her own time. Jane arrives at a desolate little cafe and stops to wait for Cathy, who does not come. And does not come.

This horror film was a daring departure from its predecessors– we don’t have creepy castles and cobwebs, we have open air and sunshine. For modern horror lovers, this may be a slow-paced and predictable offering. I’ve seen some reviews that include “boring”. Yes, the tension mounts slowly as Jane tries to get help and discovers that none of the townspeople feel trustworthy, in fact, the men are all downright creepy. The French are not painted favorably in this picture, particularly the men. The increasing feeling of being trapped in a wide open space is remarkably well done. I felt incredible empathy for Jane’s plight. What happened to Cathy? There doesn’t even seem to be a place to stay within miles. The locals are almost hostile as well as creepy. For film buffs, this is a must-see for its cinematography–long shots of farmland and endless road that should be lovely but feel sinister.

And now for some spoilers. First up, a wee technical problem. Okay, it’s summer, and the two women have next to no luggage. Cathy hangs out her lingerie to dry, so we can assume they have packed extra light and are washing their clothes often. However, both women are wearing skin tight shorts and short sleeve tops. Jane leaves her bicycle multiple times during the movie–with ALL her stuff which has to include her wallet, traveler checks (remember them? 1970 here folks, no swipey cards) and ID as well. Sorry, this doesn’t work for me. You would have all that with you at all times, and yet Jane does not carry a purse or any kind of pouch or anything, and she surely does not have ANYTHING in her pockets! Minor thing, but it bugged me.

Here’s my big problem: PAUL. We meet Paul and he seems sketchy from the start. We feel a modicum of relief when he indicates that he is a detective on holiday, who came back to this dreary little town in hopes of solving the murder of a young girl (who looked very much like the now missing Cathy). But his behavior is still weird and we come to suspect that he might be the killer.

Moody and atmospheric, making great use of closed and open spaces (woods, the road, the abandoned trailer park, the gendarme’s house) I found myself on the edge of the couch cushion in anticipation of the big reveal. Who did it?

Spoiler alert: stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

We find out that Paul is not the killer. He rescues Jane at the end. The credits roll. So, if he wasn’t the killer, then why did he expose the film? Why was he leading her to the bicycle he found? It was obviously a sketchy place and the murderer was nearby. Why not call for backup? Why didn’t he say what he found? Why was he chasing her like a stalker? His behavior just doesn’t make sense unless it’s just another jab at the French that his machismo has gotten the better of him. At one point he even pounds his chest, screaming “you can’t get away from ME!” I just don’t get it. Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think of this film.

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