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‘A Dark Song’ (review)

Produced by David Collins,
Tim Dennison, Cormac Fox
Written and Directed by Liam Gavin
Starring Steve Oram, Catherine Walker,
Mark Huberman, Susan Loughnane

 

A grief-stricken young woman, Sophia, hires a schlubby occult expert, Joseph, to help her perform a months-long ritual to appeal to the gods, demons – whatever it takes – to ask for a supernatural, all-important favor, no matter the ultimate price.

And so the two hole up in a rented mansion out in the boonies, pour a line of salt around the place, and prepare to take as long as a year to complete the ritual.

As part of the deal, Sophia is to follow every command Joseph gives her, no matter how ludicrous or humiliating, in order for the ritual to work.

This gives the film a consistently creepy edge; creepy as in the usual horror story sense, and creepy as in I was always concerned that perhaps Joseph was actually a serial killer/rapist who’s seriously screwing with Sophia.

We wait for the other shoe to drop for nearly the entire running time, be it the appearance of a god or demon, Sophia and/or Joseph finally snapping, or something else entirely.

Another intriguing premise for the genre (We Go On being an additional recent example of a horror film that investigates philosophical and spiritual issues), A Dark Song‘s dramatic thrust derives from the long-in-waiting outcome of the tortuous ritual.

And tortuous it is, for both parties – although Sophia does the lion’s share of the suffering.  But, as unpleasant as they both are, and as much as they dislike each other, Sophia and Joseph form a bond.  The exploration and examination of their relationship is quite effective and often emotional.

The relationship – and the entire film – would be lost without stellar turns by the leads, and they are both superb in very difficult roles portraying very difficult characters. They’re also fascinating characters, but even with the strong script and direction by Liam Gavin, SONG would be a crushing bore were it not for Walker and Oram.

Song is methodical, to be sure; it’s meticulously paced and there really aren’t any slam-bang moments. I appreciated the manner in which the story unfolded: we get a true sense of the awfulness of the ritual, the claustrophobia of being trapped, even in a large mansion, and the constant dread/hope of something otherworldly making its presence known.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the previously mentioned We Go On, and while I liked it quite a bit, I felt it fell a bit short of achieving the premise’s potential. A Dark Song fares better; no spoilers, but the final reel is scary and smart, and feels of a piece with the film.

I must admit that I was hoping for more of a slam-bang ending, or perhaps something utterly out of left field. After thinking about the film for a week or so, I began to appreciate the wrap-up much more, as well as Gavin’s discipline as a filmmaker and storyteller.

A Dark Song is certain to be on many “best-of” genre lists in December, and this in a year already full of quality horror flicks – and it’s only April!

Even in a glutted market, horror fans should do their best to seek out A Dark Song. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Walker, Oram and Gavin do next.

 

A Dark Song is now playing in limited release, Digital HD and On Demand.

 

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