A Dark Song

| September 3, 2017

Writer/director Liam Gavin’s feature debut, the Welsh-Irish A Dark Song (2016), is an absolutely stunning achievement in the horror genre. What Gavin accomplishes in the film with minimal locations (it’s set predominantly in a single old mansion) and minimal characters (two characters dominate the majority of the running time) is nothing short of masterful. Films with such self-imposed limitations can often come across as little more than filmed plays. In other one location, two-or-three-character movies, tensions still escalate normally, but most of the narrative’s evolution tends to be strictly character-centered as on stage. Characters talking leads to realizations about themselves, and those self-realization lead to a shift in the continuing conversation.

Gavin simultaneously allows his characters and the film’s visuals to evolve as the story progresses, making this a true work of cinema, playing on the medium’s strengths without giving in to his limitations. But it’s all in the subject matter. Rather than focusing on interpersonal turmoil as in Two Girls and a Guy (1997) or characters discussing some sort of unseen, off screen event as in American Buffalo (1996)—actually from a play by David Mamet—A Dark Song is about the occult and dark rituals intended to invoke otherworldly beings.

Sure, the film stays laser-focused on its two characters and their conflicts: grieving mother Sophia (Catherine Walker) and her perhaps not so on the level occult guide Joseph (Sightseers’ Steve Oram). But their attempt to summon Sophia’s guardian angel offers countless opportunities for visual storytelling, which Gavin and his cinematographer Cathal Watters capitalize on at every turn.

But A Dark Song is more than just a well-shot film. It’s a powerful rumination on the extent to which a parent who’s lost a child would go to assuage their grief. People say they’d “move Heaven and Earth” for their kids, but that’s of course a figure of speech. What if you literally could though? And what if doing so could give you a mere moment more with your child? There are those who would take such an opportunity no matter how slim the chance and what it meant giving up.

Thus Sophia signs her life over to Joseph for as much as a year’s time in spite of Joseph’s crass nature and his promise to put her through intense rituals that are physically, mentally, and unsettlingly sexually demanding. The film challenges us to consider from the start whether it’d be scarier if Joseph’s were simply taking advantage of a traumatized woman or if he really is leading her down a path into other worlds. Not knowing for sure carries the film’s tension easily through the midpoint and actually knowing raises so many more horrifying questions!

A Dark Song explores the depravity of dark magic rituals in a perfectly-paced, visually-arresting horror film that demands to be seen by fans of the genre. And you can do so when A Dark Song arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight on September 5, 2017. Special features on the release include interviews with Gavin and Watters, as well as actors Walker and Oram; deleted scenes; storyboards and the theatrical trailer.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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