A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.
Grief is something that can drive people to do some rather crazy things, which is probably why it makes a good motivation for characters in horror films. When a person suffers a tragic loss, it’s easy to see why they would go to some extremes to reconnect with what they lost. In fact, we can sometimes end up asking ourselves what we’d do if given a chance to communicate with someone we’ve lost.
A Dark Song tackles that issue in its story. Sophia (Catherine Walker) is still grieving from the loss of her son. He was murdered by a bunch of teenagers who were trying to do an occult ceremony. They were never caught, and the case had gone cold. She’s contacted a reclusive occultist named Joseph (Steve Oram) in the hopes that through using some dangerous and dark magic, she’ll be able to get in contact with dead child. The two embark on performing the necessary rites, and as they get closer to achieving their goals, Sophia’s true motivations places them in greater peril.
This film is a very carefully focused affair. The ceremony that Sophia and Jonathan are using is a months long process that requires them to stay in the house she’s renting. Leaving before they’ve finished can have dire consequences, so they’re essentially trapped with only each other as company. As the movie progresses, it takes the time to make us understand that the ceremonies are arduous, demanding, dangerous, and requires a fair amount of suffering. Everything has to be exact, and the smallest mistake can be life-threatening. By letting us know the potential dangers and see what the characters go through each of the rites they perform, the film is able to slowly build the tension. The more reality seems to become fluid around Sophia and Joseph, the more imperiled they become.
The protagonists themselves only serve to ratchet up the tension. Sophia may be a woman in mourning, but she’s hiding more than just her emotions from Joseph. Her secrets, and true motivations, places them both in great danger. She’s already been caught in a few lies, and despite the occultist’s warning, she continues to use subterfuge. Jonathan himself immediately lets it be known who’s in charge once they begin the ceremony. He’s abrasive, hostile, controlling, and sometimes volatile. He’s also had a spotty record when it comes to this kind of magic. He’s also an alcoholic with a hidden stash of booze. Even though he knows he must keep his body purified for things to go well, the fact that he keeps that bottle of whiskey around adds that looming threat of danger. It soon becomes clear that Sophia and Joseph are both on the precipice of utter disaster.
My hats off to writer/director Liam Gavin. This was his directorial debut, and he showed an understanding of pacing that some filmmakers that have been in the industry for decades still don’t grasp the very basics of (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*). Gavin showed a lot of skill in making a slower paced movie without it ever seeming boring or drawn out. The fact that he was able to accomplish this while only have 20 days to film makes this even more impressive. I think Gavin is going to be a talent to keep an eye out for in the future.
Aiding Gavin is some incredible cinematography by Cathal Watters. Everything had a dark claustrophobic feel under his lense, which fit each scene perfectly. The actors themselves really delivered as well, giving powerful performances. Add in Gavin’s tight script and you really have a wonderful bit of alchemy at work to create something great.
If you’re someone looking for oodles of blood, boobs, and beasts, this is not the movie for you. However, if you’re looking for something restrained and thoughtful that slowly layers the tension on as it progresses, then you’re in for a treat. I do recommend this one.