Director – Liam Gavin
Cast – Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Susan Loughnane
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
A Dark Song is an Irish supernatural horror film that marks the debut effort for writer/director Liam Gavin. The film stars Catherine Walker (Dark Touch) as Sophia Howard, a grieving mother who has not come to terms with the guilt surrounding the death of her son. Because he was kidnapped by three teenagers and killed in a ritual, she employs the only occultist who will take her case and give her what she wants – revenge. She and occultist Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram; Sightseers, The Canal) plan to summon her guardian angel in hopes that it will grant her wish for revenge. To do this, Catherine will need to endure a grueling, weeks-long rite found in the Abramelin – a grimoire associated with Kabbalah. With these two strangers sealed from the outside world inside a decaying mansion, they begin their journey in which they must risk their lives and souls in hopes that her guardian angel, and not something worse, answers their calls.
I love stories like this where the “occult” is involved in performing a risky ritual. It isn’t so simple though. I have seen this tactic used before and with mediocre results. This isn’t one of those stories where some cheesy dude in a black robe does a five minute séance and things go badly after that. No, in A Dark Song Joseph Solomon looks like your average Joe. On top of this, he doesn’t have a high success rate in these cases. He seems to know what he is doing, but the risks involved are too unpredictable to guarantee results. In addition, and this is what I like most about such stories, you aren’t really sure at first if he is even legitimate. There is the possibility that he is full of shit and Catherine will be none the wiser if her risky decision fails. There are definitely some questionable practices involved with the ritual, and Catherine notices them. Her defiance will be met harshly, as Joseph doesn’t allow room for insubordination. It is too late to back out and Catherine must be fully committed to the ritual, or forever doom them both. So he says.
My favorite element of this story is the ritual itself. As I just mentioned, it isn’t a five-minute séance. Before approaching Joseph, Catherine had begun the weeks-long ritual. This included having to find a home meeting specific demands, cleansing herself of sex / worldly desires, and that is only the pregame. Once they get the ball rolling and seal themselves in the home the ritual’s demands grow insidiously.
So some may wonder that if she is trying to summon a guardian angel then where is the horror going to come from? Well, it comes from otherworldly forces that want in on the action. We see the horror starting to manifest at about 30 minutes in. It is tame at first, like things going bump in the night. This horror eventually grows to a full manifestation late in the film, but not without a few decent spooks along the way. Atmosphere plays a major role in setting up the horror, and Liam Gavin’s use of dark shadows, a spooky interior location, and the generally gloomy atmosphere of Ireland leave you with an eternal sense of dread. Equally important is sound. While I did not get to watch this in theaters I did what I could and watched this with some over-ear headphones that immersed me into the experience. Gavin’s use of everything non-tangible, from spooky thuds on the floor, to mysterious voices from other rooms, to the incredible indoor location used for the home show that he has a knack for buildup and scaring you with what you can’t see. His directing excellence is rounded off by the great performances from our leads, who happen to be the only main actors used. There are no supporting characters…unless you count the demons.
Overall, A Dark Song is a great supernatural horror film that blends horror with grief, pain, loss, and vulnerable mindset that stems from such things. The added drama makes this a bit of a slow-burner, but it is a slow-burner that delivers on constant developments that make for some fair spooks.
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