A Dark Song (Movie Review)

A Dark Song (Movie Review)
8 10

A Dark Song movie review Liam Gavin Catherine Walker Steve Oram

PLOT: A woman hoping to connect with her dead son locks herself in a house with a potentially disturbed expert on the occult.

REVIEW: The cool thing about A DARK SONG is, for the longest time you don't know if you're watching a supernatural thriller or a simple, creepy mindf*ck with no paranormal elements at all. It could be both, too, and that adds to the disorienting and claustrophobic nature of the piece, which takes place in an isolated manor somewhere in the hills of Ireland. Whatever subgenre of horror the film lives in doesn't matter much while we're watching it, because A DARK SONG is so gripping that we're just as fascinated by the character study at play as we are by the potentially horrific implications of what these people are up to.

There are only two main characters in the film (although just as important are key people in their lives who remain unseen throughout). We meet a clearly damaged woman named Sophia (Catherine Walker), who we can gather is suffering a great loss. She arranges to pick up a man named Solomon (Steve Oram), a testy, conceited jerk who she invites to her just-purchased mansion, located far from any recognizable civilization. For a while the movie is tantalizingly oblique in its purpose. What are they doing, exactly? We gradually realize - based on their talk of rituals, demons, angels and more - that they're about to embark on some kind of unholy ritual that will allow her to see, or talk to, her dead son once again. In the bargain, Solomon will also receive a reward from the great beyond.

A Dark Song movie review Liam Gavin Catherine Walker Steve Oram

They're going to have to be locked up in the house for weeks, while Solomon - evidently an expert on black magic and the occult - goes about summoning unearthly powers and "purifying" Sophia. There are a lot of instructions, a lot of rules; Solomon is bossy, rude and peculiar about nearly everything. Warning signs emerge: Sometimes his directions seem totally arbitrary, sometimes quite precise. His already abrasive personality grows even more antagonistic, sometimes it manifests into physical abuse. Sophia constantly wonders if any of this is working... And yet she stays.

Much of the film has us deciding whether or not Solomon is nothing but a sadistic charlatan. Sophia frequently suspects as much, but is determined to remain in the house, so desperate is she to believe in his power. Solomon claims he's seen gods and the damned and infinite madness, but his schlubby appearance and obnoxious demeanor don't quite suggest a man who's visited eternity. Their dynamic takes on the traits of an abusive relationship: He's grotesque and intolerant one minute, kind and gregarious the next. She's disgusted with him and threatens to walk away, but is then willing to have a heart to heart.

But if he's nothing but a psychopath, why is he so dedicated to the many facets of this charade, even when she's not around? And what of the mysterious voices and sounds that frequently make themselves heard late at night?

This lurid alliance forged by these characters is quite riveting, and A DARK SONG's success hinges not only on its central mystery, but on the performances of its two leads. Both are excellent. Walker truly looks put through the ringer, and Sophia consistently earns our sympathy - along with our frustration. The actress has strong scene after strong scene and we can't take our eyes off her, especially in the film's emotional final passage. Oram is equally compelling; Solomon can be a loathsome figure, but the notes of humanity Oram gives him allow us to be invested in his arc. Like Sophia, we have to wonder if his detestable actions are all serving a higher purpose. Oram is generally known for his comedic stylings (SIGHTSEERS!), but there's nothing very funny about this intense performance.

The film also looks just great in every way, with candlelight illuminating bizarre symbols and totems in shadowy rooms and hallways. A creepy atmosphere is established early and maintained until the startling finale.

The finale in question is... imperfect. I don't think it wholly works for me. But it's also rather bold. Instead of going with a traditional show-stopper, writer-director Liam Gavin opts for something much more thought-provoking. It could make or break the film for some. I'll admit I was thinking up several possible conclusions during the movie, and A DARK SONG provided me with none of them, and I'll take something that's unorthodox and imperfect over a standard, predictable resolution. Overall, it's a very strong feature debut for Gavin, someone those of us in the horror world - and beyond - should absolutely take notice of.

Extra Tidbit: A DARK SONG opens in theaters and VOD on April 28th



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