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A DARK SONG (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 candles.






Liam Gavin’s supernatural horror arrives here in the U.S. on 4/28/17 from IFC Midnight and tells the story of a woman (Catherine Walker) joining forces with an occultist (Steve Oram from The Canal) to speak to her dead son. Nothing can go wrong with that…right? Check out the spooky trailer for this upcoming chiller!

source: Youtube




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THE CANAL (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Irish horror flick finds film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) about to become a father and buying a new house with his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra). Five years later, things take a turn for the worse as David catches his wife cheating and sees police archive footage from 1902 revealing a grisly murder that took place in his very house. He starts to see things, too and when his philandering wife turns up dead, an apparent accident, in the nearby canal, David finds the area has a history of gruesome deaths. The canal has held many bodies and that a shadowy figure may be responsible…or is David simply loosing his mind due to his recent emotional traumas? Either way, his son Billy (Calum Heath) and nanny Sophia (Kelly Byrne) may be in grave danger, but is it from some supernatural force…or David himself?

Writer/director Ivan Kavanagh tries really hard, but something is simply missing from this psychological/supernatural thriller. I never found myself connecting with the distant David even before his troubles begin and despite some spooky visuals, the film never chilled me or spooked me until, literally the last 10 minutes. Too little and too late. Kavanagh gives his horror a dreadfully slow pace and Evans’ emotionally detached performance keeps you from caring or bonding with the character and even in the film’s third act, where things really start to come unglued, at that point we are too distant from the story and events within to really care or be emotionally invested. Is there something supernatural haunting David and the area he lives in, or is he creating delusions to suppress his anger, sadness and possible guilt over his wife’s infidelity and death? We really don’t get involved enough to care and this greatly diminishes an effectively creepy ending. At least Kavanagh leaves us with a little bit of a chill before the credits roll. Maybe a little more time should have been spent with David and Alice, so the shock of her adultery and the impact of David’s pain sunk in better, or perhaps Ivan Kavanagh should have been less obvious with his borrowed horror trappings, such as long haired female ghosts, scratchy old film footage and powder on the floor, ala Paranormal Activity. Either way, the film just never grabbed me like it should and I never felt any strong emotion in the storytelling. It’s a decent effort that never really achieves what it sets out to, despite a director who does seem to have some skill in what he does. He just needs to work a little harder at getting us to become emotionally involved in his stories, so his visuals aren’t without weight.

As for the director’s work with his actors…as said earlier Evans, gives a very detached performance. Even before things start to get weird and go wrong, he just seems off and that alienates us from really clicking with him from the beginning. Hoekstra is pretty as Alice, but also seems a bit off, so her infidelities come as no surprise either. The real star is cute little Calum Heath as their five year-old son Billy, who sticks with dad no matter how crazy he gets. There is also a sympathetic turn by Antonia Campbell-Hughes as David’s caring co-worker Claire and cutie Kelly Byrne does a nice job as Billy’s terrified, but loyal nanny, Sophie. Steve Oram rounds out as a cop who just comes off as a smug douche. A mixed bag performance wise which implies Kavanagh needs to either strengthen his relationship with his performers or trust their instincts a bit more. One would have to be an on-set observer to decide which it is.

What can I say? There has been a lot of positive buzz for this flick, but it didn’t grab me. Director Ivan Kavanagh is a competent filmmaker and has a nice visual style, but there is an emotional detachment to his characters and his directing that keeps one from really getting pulled into the story and deeply effected by his scenes of horror. He seemed to finally get things together in the last ten minutes, or so, but that is far too little and too late to really consider this a totally successful flick. We’ve also seen a lot of the elements before and used more effectively. Check it out if you are curious. It has it’s fans, so it may work for you, but The Canal left me cold for the most part and adrift in it’s waters of indifference.

A generous 2 and 1/2 movie cameras circa the 1900s.

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