A Dark Song, an occult thriller from writer/director Liam Gavin, is a perfect horror film for the first 80 minutes of its 100 minute runtime. As with so many films of this genre, A Dark Song begins to careen out of control as it reaches its climax. Thankfully, its third act flaws never outweigh the enjoyment of what comes before.
In the opening scenes, Sophia Howard is house-hunting. She’s not with her hubby or a significant other. She’s not worried about how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has or the amenities that it offers. She’s making certain that it is the ideal location for an occult ritual she will be performing over the coming months.
Sophia is in need of supernatural intervention in her life, but she’s a novice. After interviewing several other mystics who turned her down, she finds Joseph Solomon, who is willing to help for the right price. Together they embark on a journey into the occult that will last for months and test their physical, emotional and spiritual endurance.
Why is Sophia seeking assistance from the supernatural? Are her motives as pure as she represents them to Joseph? These and other questions will remain unanswered here because they are central to the many pleasures of this little gem of a film.
A Dark Song does everything a great horror film needs to do. It creates a never-ending sense of dread within its occult environment, but it also gives you characters who you care about. The film is essentially a two-character play that unfolds (more or less) in a single location. As the film progresses, the audience finds itself invested in the outcome because it actually cares about the people on screen. That’s a rare feat in a genre that’s used to serving up anonymous nubile teenagers to maniacs with machetes.
The performances from Catherine Walker and Steve Oram are nothing short of Oscar-caliber. Performances in genre films (especially horror films) tend to be too “big”, degenerating into silly melodrama. Everything in their portrayals of Sophia and Joseph is perfectly modulated.
There are moments that we empathize with them, distrust them, hate them and laugh with them. In other words, they feel “real”. And that is essential because their characters are needed to provide a balance to the very unreal plot unfolding onscreen. The actors are up to the task, and they anchor the film nicely.
The other MVP of the film is the production design. Scene by scene the mansion changes. Beginning as a beautiful home in Wales, the rooms morph into the site of an occult ritual. Runes and pictographs drawn on the floors evolve and grow more elaborate with each scene. It’s like an external manifestation of the changes taking place inside the characters. It’s disquieting and amazingly effective.
Earlier this year IFC Midnight brought us The Autopsy of Jane Doe starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. It was the horror film equivalent of a hard-hit double in the gap. And now they’ve followed it up with A Dark Song, and it’s a home run.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.