Review: A Dark Song (2016)

A Dark Song (2016)

Directed by: Liam Gavin | 100 minutes | drama, horror | Actors: Steve Oram, Catherine Walker, Susan Loughnane, Mark Huberman, Nathan Vos, Martina Nunvarova, Breffni O’Connor, Sheila Moloney

The new wave of horror it is called: the boom of intelligent, low-budget horror productions that have set the festival circuit on fire in recent years. The occult thriller ‘A Dark Song’, the first feature film by director/screenwriter Liam Gavin, fits in the ranks of films such as ‘Raw’, ‘The Witch’ and ‘The Babadook’. It is a special, disturbing viewing experience, if you are open to it.

The main character of ‘A Dark Song’ is the wealthy Sophia (Catherine Walker). She rents a secluded house in rural Wales. She needs it for a year, she tells the broker. She pays in cash and thanks him for his discretion. Then she picks up a man from the station. His name is Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), an occultist who must help her make contact with her deceased son. With his glasses, unkempt beard and inseparable shekkies, he doesn’t live up to the standard picture, but he knows the ropes.

Solomon explains the rules beforehand. The ritual, the Abramelin, can last for months. The two will invoke dark forces. Angels and demons. Sufficient supplies must be brought into the house, because once the ritual begins, they are trapped until it is completed. The process will take a lot out of Sophia mentally and physically. She must follow Solomon’s directions closely, fast, endure hardship, be willing to work sex magic. Sophia says yes to everything. She is determined. Or desperate. We learn that she has been in an institution and that Solomon drinks.

Solomon is merciless to his client. He will bite her if she breaks the rules. Does she realize what she is doing? Sophia swallows her anger. She has to trust that Solomon knows what he’s doing. She can’t help it. All for that one reward. As the months pass and the ritual progresses, the smallest things take on meaning. A barking dog or a fallen flower, according to Solomon, is proof that the invocation works. Sophia has doubts. The ritual begins to take its toll on both of them. Sometimes they find support in each other, but more often they attack each other. You wonder what gets into these people, and that’s before really bad things happen.

Also wondering how Gavin is getting away with this movie. The ritual in ‘A Dark Song’ seems like a mishmash of religious elements and often repeats itself, but feels rare authentic. The film music is abrasive, but it is also extremely effective. The main characters demand the utmost of themselves, each other and the audience. Sophia lies about her motives and Solomon is an obnoxious man with Harvey Weinstein-esque tendencies. Yet you continue to look fascinated at the two. You want to know where this grueling journey takes them. It’s a question every screenwriter asks: why do my main characters have to go through this? The denouement of ‘A Dark Song’ gives you a convincing answer and touches on universal themes such as mourning, faith, guilt, revenge and forgiveness.

‘A Dark Song’ won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The film excels in character sketches, subcutaneous tension and glimpses of misery and sublime beauty, but you are in the wrong place for gore or jump scares. Some story elements are just not well thought out and the denouement is perhaps a bit too gaudy styled, as if Gavin wanted to give his costume department something to do. That does not alter the fact that the scene strikes a chord. You can let your own interpretation on what exactly happened. ‘A Dark Song’ is rock solid: a gloomy, hypnotic film with a moving ending that will be remembered for a long time to come. For the enthusiast.

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