Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror feature A DARK SONG by writer/director Liam Gavin. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
"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."
There is a true sense of dread created early in this film that permeates nearly every scene. A lot of this I can contribute to the incredibly distinctive score, which caught my ear right from the beginning. There is something classical, yet unnerving about the music that suggested the idea of sophistication, before the deep thrum brought a pit to my stomach. It brought to mind the ghost stories of old while still leading me to believe that this was going to be a much more menacing entity.
On this second portion I proved to be correct as, instead of ghosts, we are dealing with much more malevolent demons. The approach taken to this subject matter was interesting as they highlighted the idea that using the proper practices with the proper motivations; they could make a summoning to grand their desires. This idea of purity of purpose to achieve their ends in the face of evil was a fascinating take on many different religious texts that opened up a whole different set of ideas to their scenario.
Of course, it is because of this heavy religious influence that some might take issue with this movie as they delve pretty deeply into spiritualism. Personally, I thought it was wonderfully executed as they kept the story accessible while still making the trickster demons incredibly imposing. Another nice touch is that we were never forced to sit through an exorcism scene, a trope which I have found to be rampant in any piece dealing with angels and demons. The fact that they were able to pull this off without sacrificing any of the religious teachings they were referencing made set this apart as a different, more memorable take on the occult.
Now I feel it necessary at this point to comment on some of the general designs of these various entities that we encounter. The demons were, from a looks standpoint, not nearly as interesting in the light as they were when they were kept out of sight. There was a certain zombie like quality to them that never quite worked for me, though I get that they were trying to make them read as perversions of humanity. I am glad they were kept in shadow as much as possible as the few good looks we had just did not tickle my fancy as much as the glimpses we had of their personalities.
Fair warning, this next paragraph has a bit of a spoiler, so skip to the one after if you would rather not know about this next part.
The angel, on the other hand, was entirely transfixing from its look to how it behaved. There was something about its idealized, larger than life, but still not quite human design that struck a chord with my imagination. The glint in its eye while it conversed with our lead, even though we could not hear its words, gave it a personality even in its silence. This interpretation of an angel elevated this movie a lot in my eyes.
Okay, spoiler paragraph over, those who skipped can read on now.
Since I have gone on about everything but the acting, I figure I should probably touch on that now. Right off the bat, allow me to say that Steve Oram was fantastic in the role of Joseph Solomon. He gave a performance that manages to capture the world weariness of the character yet still have some hilarious lines that were a welcome relief from the tension. He juggled the comedy relief against his damaged with relative ease turning from tough to fragile with a shocking realism. Watching his performance was so engrossing that I would gladly sign up for a prequel movie to learn more about the other cases that he references.
The role of Sophia Howard, played by Catherine Walker, served as a good foil for Joseph Solomon, yet I never quite latched onto this character. I realize that everyone deals with trauma differently, but I just felt as if the performance needed a touch more humanity during some of the latter scenes. This is a tough call to make because Ms. Walker shows some great talent during the finale, but there were moments building up to that where I feel as if, given what had been going on, her character's defenses should have been down. This makes it difficult for me to tell whether it was her portrayal that was the issue or if the direction she was given was a bit off. Luckily, by the end she sells the heck out of her role making for a memorable final shot.
All in all, this is a stellar take on the occult genre that avoids the common tropes by focusing on a more spiritual interpretation. The solid performances combined with an unsettling score create a sense of dread that makes the finale all the more rewarding. Fans of THE CONJURING (2013) or MONSTERS (2010) will find this one to be a real treat.
The Creeping Craig