December 20th, 2010 - by Joseph McCabe
Filmmaker Marcos Efron makes his feature-film directorial debut with this month's release of And Soon the Darkness, a remake of the 1970 British thriller, this time about two American girls (played by Odette Yustman and Amber Heard) whose vacation in Argentina takes a turn for the terrifying when one of them suddenly goes missing. Co-starring Karl Urban, the film opened in limited release on Friday (December 17th), and hits DVD and Blu-ray on December 28th. Read my conversation with Efron after the jump.
How familiar were you with the original And Soon the Darkness when you took on this project?
I had zero familiarity. I had not heard of it until I was approached by my agent to work on the remake. I wasn't that familiar with ‘70s British genre films. But when I watched it, I thought it was great. But to be honest, I'd not heard of it. No.
What did you appreciate about the original? What did you seek to emulate and what did you want to create anew?
What I liked about he original was that it was a simple clear story, really atmospheric. And it didn't rely on trickery or gimmicks to tell a convincing story. The idea that you can set it in some place rural and remote but beautiful, like rural France, or in this case rural Argentina, and a lot of it can take place during the day and still be scary, was [great]. One of the greatest things about the original movie that I kept in the remake was the [lack of] subtitles. Because if you've seen the original the characters in the town speak French, but Jane, our intrepid English nurse, doesn't speak French. So once they spoke French you didn't know what was going on, therefore you were pretty firmly planted in her shoes. I wanted to do that in this remake by not having subtitles for the Spanish. So again, if you don't speak Spanish, you're kind of with Stephanie, the girl who doesn't speak the language. I think it's effective and I'd really never seen that in a thriller before. That was one of the things I kept, along with the atmosphere and not relying on gimmicks or blatant horror to tell the story.
The original film was made by a TV crew who had worked on ‘60s British TV. In taking this project on, did you see an opportunity to make it a little more cinematic? To open it up visually?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. That movie was from the 1970s, and for the time I think it was very effective, and I still think it's an effective movie. But as a filmmaker, and obviously the producers felt the same way, you have to contemporize your story and the setting to make it appealing. I think if you tried to remake And Soon the Darkness frame by frame it would be pretty tough. Because audiences, especially younger audiences, are really much more savvy than maybe they were forty years ago. So while the original is enjoyable to watch, I think everybody caught on quickly that creating new characters, opening it up, and – like you said – having it much more cinematic – was definitely called for.
There's been a lot of tourists-in-trouble movies in recent years. Everything from Hostel to Touristas. Where do you think many of them go wrong?
Well, I don't think most of those movies necessarily went wrong. I think a lot of them work on some level because I think everybody is scared of being alone in someplace unfamiliar, away from the confines or the safety net that we're used to. Say what you will about some of these movies, but certainly I think they were definitely suspenseful. You might not like, say, the torture porn aspect of Touristas, or seeing somebody's liver taken out of their body. But there's a part of you that's kind of on edge, like, "Well, shit. This could actually happen…" People might say And Soon the Darkness doesn't have enough gore in it, and that's the downfall of that movie. But I disagree. I think you can always find these movies where you imagine yourself in a strange land without a safety net. I think they're kind of scary, and I think you'll always see movies like that.
Did you find any political theme emerge as you were working on your movie?
Argentina has had a long history – especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s – of war and political dissenters disappearing. There was actually a larger element to that story in the original script that I'd written, but we kind of took some of that out because it muddied the waters a little bit, and I wasn't trying to make a political statement. For me it was really just "Let's put a couple of best friends in a tough situation and hopefully people can relate to it," as if "That could happen to me," without the supernatural. Politically, I don't think so.
This film, in addition to being your feature film directorial debut, is also your first feature screenplay credit. Can you talk about the process of creating the script?
It's interesting because [Jennifer Derwingson] and I didn't work on the script together. The way it happened was I got involved with the project some years after the producers had optioned it and were doing some work on it. Jennifer was brought on board to write a screenplay, and then I was subsequently brought on board one or two years later to add my take to it. They were looking for a director who could also write and change the script and make it their own. She and I shared a credit on the film, and there's a lot in the movie that pointed to Jennifer's original script. So yeah, about two years later, the characterization was there, but there is also a lot that's pretty different. Often in Hollywood you'll have two writers working on the same project, usually at different times without ever meeting each other. We didn't sit down and collaborate on it together.
What's next for you? Do you see yourself returning to helm another thriller? Or are you looking to explore a different genre?
I really love the thriller genre. I love horror as well, but I think my tastes are more suited towards the suspense thrillers. Right now I'm working on a couple of projects. One of them – I can't say the name of the book, but it's a British novel, a trilogy, that I'm working on with some producers at Sony. It's not quite set up yet. But we're working on it. This one is futuristic thriller, young adult. Imagine Logan's Run meets 1984. It's really an extraordinary series of books, and it's definitely a youthful thriller. The other project I'm working on is a time-travel script that the writer, who I've been working with for some time now, is working on for me to direct. So I do like suspense and thrills, but I also like sci-fi and historical movies. But I don't think I'm ready to quite fall into one category as a filmmaker yet. I think every filmmaker just wants to shoot and try new things. And that's kind of where I am now.
Going back to And Soon the Darkness, what was it about Amber and Odette that you liked, that you wanted for their roles as the tourists?
I'll tell you what I liked about them. Have you seen them? They're gorgeous! [Laughs.] But no, away from the obvious stuff, what I liked about them… Let's start with Amber. She is so smart. It's scary, a woman as young as she is, how smart she is. And when I met here we immediately got along. Because we're both from Texas and we have that commonality, the same favorite barbecue restaurant. But she's extremely smart, and she was one of the first people to come on board the film, and she brought the different characterizations to Stephanie that you don't usually think about when you're writing it, when you're envisioning it. This is what any good actor does. Then Odette… When I first met Odette, I went, "Oh my God. She's the sweetest, nicest girl there is." And she is. But I'm thinking, "Gosh, it's not how I envisioned Ellie, this wild, sexually promiscuous party girl." But I kept telling myself, "Okay, these are actors. She can be that character even if she really is a sweetheart." I was really fortunate that both of these actors, and then Karl [Urban], Adriana, and all the Argentina actors, really embraced their roles and I just count myself extremely lucky to have such a great cast.
Karl Urban seems to belong to that rare breed of actors who are very masculine but still capable of being a chameleon.
Yeah, Karl's great. And I think "chameleon" is a great way to put it. One of the first instances I remember being exposed to him was in The Bourne Supremacy, where he played the assassin. And he's nothing like the character in Lord of the Rings, and nothing like Bones McCoy. I don't think he's played anything like Michael in And Soon the Darkness. He's a great presence to have around the set too. Everyone loves Karl. [Laughs.]
In real life, what's your greatest fear?
[Laughs.] This might sound kind of funny, but I'm scared of wild animals, like sharks and lions, or anything like that. It's a common dream of mind, one of those stressful, nightmarish dreams. There's no basis for it. I never had an experience. It's just wild beasts. They scare me. I suppose I should do a wild beast movie, right? [Laughs.]
Definitely. Explore that fear!
I couldn't bear to be on set, like, with a tiger on the set. I'd just walk away. [Laughs.]
Thank you again, Marcos.