Tuesday, October 10, 2017

#2,440. A Dark Song (2016)

Directed By: Liam Gavin

Starring: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Nathan Vos

Tag line: "Not everything can be forgiven"

Trivia: Director Liam Gavin only had 20 days to film inside the house

A Dark Song, the 2016 horror / drama by writer / director Liam Gavin, is in no particular hurry to get around to its more horrific elements. Yet I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “slow burn”. That term suggests a movie that is gradually building towards something, which, in a way, this film is; a woman unable to deal with a tragic event from her past enlists the help of an occultist to bridge the gap between the living and the dead, all to ask a favor that only Gods or demons could possibly grant. As you might imagine, the ritual needed to accomplish this feat is quite involved, and takes months - as well as a decent portion of the movie - to complete.

But from its very first scene, director Gavin infuses the film with a sense of dread that remains constant throughout. So even while we’re waiting for the supernatural elements to come into play, A Dark Song still keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) is reeling from the death of her only son, and with the help of Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a well-respected master of the occult, she is hoping the spirits will allow her to once again speak with her deceased child. Armed with a detailed list of specifications (which Solomon provided), Sophia rents a house in Wales and prepares herself, physically and emotionally, for a ceremony that, if successful, will grant her very unusual request.

Despite Solomon’s numerous warnings that the ritual will be long and unpleasant, and that they will be tampering with some very dark forces, Sophia remains steadfast in her determination to see it through to the end. But as the weeks drag on, Sophia begins to wonder if Solomon sold her a bill of goods, and is not able to contact the netherworld as promised. As for Solomon, he becomes increasingly convinced that Sophia’s true intentions are much more sinister than she is letting on.

For the majority of its runtime, A Dark Song is a two-person show, which means a lot was riding on the performances delivered by its stars. Both were up to the challenge. Walker is excellent as Sophia, the strong-willed woman who nonetheless turns herself over, body and soul, to a man she hardly knows; while Oram is pitch-perfect as the wise but ultimately flawed Solomon, an accomplished master of the dark arts who is also an alcoholic (something he admits might hinder his ability to complete the ritual).  At one point Solomon even lets his sexual urges get the better of him, resulting in what is undoubtedly the movie’s most uncomfortable scene. The love-hate relationship that develops between the two characters is fascinating, giving A Dark Song a dramatic flair you don’t find in many horror films.

In addition, the tonal score composed by Ray Harman helps build, then maintain the movie’s ominous mood; and once the ritual is in full-swing, A Dark Song takes a few unexpected, yet ultimately creepy turns, combining “traditional” supernatural elements (mysterious voices, doors opening on their own, etc) with a few that are quite unique.

The one issue I had with A Dark Song was its finale. I give writer/director Nevin points for creativity (it’s not a ending you’ll see coming), but when you take into account all that went before it, the climactic scenes felt just a bit too tidy.

Fortunately, they don't ruin what is an otherwise exceptional film, and thanks to the stellar performances delivered by its leads A Dark Song is one horror movie I’ll be anxious to watch again in the near future.

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