A Dark Song Movie Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Released by IFC Midnight
Written and directed by Liam Gavin
2016, 100 minutes, Rated PG-13
Theatrical release on April 27th, 2017
Catherine Walker as Sophia Howard
Steve Oram as Joseph Solomon
If so many horror movies are so bad, why do we keep watching them? The answer to that question is easy: because once in a while we find a gem that makes it worth our time and makes us forget all the bad movies that preceded it. A Dark Song is one of these rare gems. In fact, if Raw was the first horror movie I watched in 2017 that made me sit up and marvel at the acting, writing, and cinematography, A Dark Song quickly became the second. Tense, sad, violent, and weird, this film embodies the reason why we keep watching; because sometimes everything comes together and the time we spend in front of the screen morphs into the best form of escapism.
Sophia is a young woman with a troubled past who buys a remote house in the country. The plan is to obtain the bizarre services of Joseph, a strange, perennially angry man who possesses arcane knowledge about dark magic rituals that will help Sophia communicate with the dead. However, before contact can be made, the dup must lock themselves up in the house and go through a long, tedious, dangerous, and sometimes violent and abusive series of rituals. They can’t leave the house, and as strange things begin to happen and doubts about each individual’s agenda arise, tensions in the house reach a peak more than once. Is a door between the real world and the spirit world opening or is time and isolation taking a toll on Sophia’s psyche? An accident will alter what they’re trying to accomplish, and truth will reveal itself as an ever-shifting thing that is as unknowable as that which waits for us behind the veil.
The first thing that should be said about A Dark Song is that, more than a horror movie, it’s an emotionally gritty and very mysterious psychological/hallucinatory thriller that is packed with horror and supernatural elements. Also, the movie doesn’t deliver a lot of the cheap jump scares that most contemporary horror is so fond of. Instead, stunning performances by actors Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, an inescapably oppressive and incredibly tense atmosphere, and a good script that truly starts to shine once the Sophia’s sanity starts to crack all add up to a film that keeps your eyes and ears perked up and your pulse racing almost for its entirety.
There are a lot of things done right here, and the first is a crushing, continuous sense of uncertainty. As viewers, we’re unsure of Joseph’s skills from the start, and then we learn that Sophia’s true motivation has also been a secret to us. This not knowing forces us to look for clues, to study details, and to try to read into every conversation and explanation. Once a script has forced you there, you’re hooked. Also, the ominous lighting and the house itself, along with the very visual elements of the rituals that end up taking most of the floor of a big room, are used very well to explore the limitless cinematographic possibilities of reduced microcosms.
A Dark Song is not easy to watch. There is violence, abuse, and Joseph is one of those characters you just want to punch for some reason (kudos to Oram for pulling all of that off). Furthermore, the rituals are strange and, once everything shifts and the third act kicks off, the level of weirdness and the sense of impending doom are almost palpable. However, the film also possesses that uncanny quality that makes it impossible to stop watching. Throw into that equation a solid, ominous soundtrack, superb acting, great special effects, and the kind of writing and directing that immediately added Gavin to my list of “keep an eye on this person!” and you get exactly what I mentioned in the opening paragraph: a must-watch gem that will help you forget mediocre films for a while. Now go watch it.