Liam Gavin’s feature debut is as brave as it is astonishing; to create what is essentially a chamber piece and effectively evoke tension is no mean feat, yet so it is. The easy option for tackling the occult in a close setting would be to opt for Ouija boards — particularly so for a primary character’s desire to communicate with her dead son — and jump scares; Gavin, inspired by Aleister Crowley, chooses to take on the ancient dark art of Gnosticism and emphasise detail in ceremony (how authentic this is, I cannot tell you). An at times kitchen-sink feel is the cherry on top, adding a refreshing realism to what may well be one of the best horror releases of the year.
A foreboding, discordant soundtrack of off-tune strings and drums jars from the beginning, as we are introduced to Sophia as she views a house. Clearly nervous, her needs are specific and she’s secretive, bribing the agent with a large sum of cash for no questions asked. The film similarly keeps its cards close to its chest until Sophia recruits Joseph, an unlikely practitioner of the dark arts, who reluctantly agrees to perform a powerful invocation ritual. While this slow unravelling of raison d’être could frustrate, it allows the establishment of power play between the characters; Sophia is meek and naive, while Joseph is blasé and impatient. A Dark Song is just as much about their relationship as it is magic, and Catherine Walker and Steve Oram complement each other perfectly, bringing believability to the other-worldly setting.
The final act feels a little sledgehammer given that earlier fantastical moments are presented much more subtly, and slightly robs the ethereality worked so hard for. It is a small criticism, given how touching the effect as Sophia completes her journey to acceptance of her painful past. A Dark Song is a beautiful piece of work and highly recommended.
7 Aug 2017