A DARK SONG (2016)
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Irish horror presents the story of the grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) who has hired occult expert Joseph (Steve Oram) to perform a series of dark rituals so that she may speak with her dead son. The rituals are grueling and take an emotional toll on both participants. Nothing will prepare them, however, for what they will meet when the rituals start to take effect.
Written and directed by Liam Gavin this is a tense and atmospheric chiller that presents black magic rituals with a far more grounded and realistic approach than the usual theatrics. Gavin focuses mainly on his two leads and adds to the tension by having them become more and more confrontational as impatient Sophia doesn’t feel the rituals are working and Joseph doesn’t feel Sophia has been honest about her intent. It’s an interesting character study under emotional and supernatural duress as Joseph becomes more abusive to keep Sophia following the procedures and Sophia becomes more and more desperate to accomplish her goals. There are also some very spooky moments as signs appear that the barriers between worlds are coming down and thus otherworldly things are coming in. This leads to a last act which can be outright scary at times and surprisingly sentimental at others. Gavin has a very good visual eye, via Cathal Watters’ cinematography and uses the old house setting to maximum effect. There is also a really haunting score by Ray Harman, that rivals last years The Witch score by Mark Korven. If there is anything that holds the film back a bit is that the middle section drags somewhat, as the film is already moderately paced. The antagonistic relationship between Joseph and Sophia also starts to wear out it’s welcome as Joseph’s methods and demeanor towards Sophia start to become borderline cruel. Just at the point where one starts to feel the film’s grip slipping, the walls come down and the things that go bump in the night come knocking. The last act does deliver the goods and a few unexpected surprises as well.
As for the minimal cast, both leads are very good. Walker plays a grieving and desperate woman quite skillfully. We sympathize with Sophia even if she is dabbling in some very dark arts to see her child one last time. She has a few secrets and over the course of the film, Walker does strong emotional work revealing them. Steve Oram is equally solid as Joseph. He can be a cruel and mean person when he feels Sophia is straying off the path, but Oram and Gavin’s script also give glimpses to a more likable person under the surface. He is driven but human and he is never portrayed as a bad guy. Good work by both cast members.
Overall, I liked A Dark Song and was especially intrigued by it’s more realistic approach to dark magic rituals. There are some genuinely scary scenes and the film is always atmospheric. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the bickering and abusive behavior between Sophia and Joseph starts to wear on one after awhile and the middle of the film, where much of this occurs, drags a bit before the film’s spooky last act kicks in. There is an intensity about the film and some surprising sentimentality, too, though the methodical pace might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe it doesn’t quite live up to early word and I didn’t love it as much as I’d have liked, but it’s a starkly original take on occult thrillers and certainly worth a spooky look.