Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
“A Dark Song,” the 2017 horror / drama by writer / director Liam Gavin, is in no particular hurry to get around to its more horrific elements, yet I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “slow burn.” That term suggests a movie that is gradually building toward something, which, in a way, this film is; a woman, unable to deal with a tragic event from her past, enlists the help of an occultist to bridge the gap between the living and the dead, all to ask a favor that only Gods or demons could possibly grant her. As you can imagine, the ritual to accomplish this amazing feat is quite involved, and takes months (as well as a decent portion of the movie) to complete.
But from its very first scene, director Gavin infuses the movie with a sense of dread that remains constant throughout. So, even as we’re waiting for its supernatural elements to come into play, “A Dark Song” still manages to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) is reeling from the death of her only son, and with the help of Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a well-respected master of the occult, she is hoping the spirits will allow her to once again speak with her deceased child. Armed with a detailed list of specifications (which Solomon provided), Sophia rents a house in Wales and prepares herself, physically and emotionally, for a ceremony that, if successful, will grant her unusual request.
Despite Solomon’s numerous warnings that the ritual will be long and unpleasant, and that they will be tampering with very dark forces, Sophia remains steadfast in her determination to see it through to the end. But as the weeks drag on, Sophia begins to wonder if Solomon sold her a bill of goods, and is unable to contact the netherworld as promised, while Solomon himself becomes increasingly convinced that Sophia’s true intentions are much more sinister than she’s letting on.
For the majority of its runtime, “A Dark Song” is a two-person show, and as such a lot rides on the performances delivered by its stars. Luckily, both are up to the challenge. Walker is excellent as Sophia, the strong-willed woman who nonetheless turns herself over, body and soul, to a man she hardly knows, while Oram is pitch-perfect as the wise but ultimately flawed Solomon (an accomplished master of the dark arts, he is also an alcoholic, something he himself admits could hinder his ability to complete the ritual; and at one point Solomon even lets his sexual urges get the better of him, resulting in what is undoubtedly the movie’s most uncomfortable scene). The love-hate relationship that develops between the two characters proves quite fascinating, giving “A Dark Song” a dramatic flair you don’t find in many horror films.
In addition, the tonal score composed by Ray Harman helps to build, and then maintain the movie’s ominous mood; and once the ritual is in full-swing, “A Dark Song” takes a few unexpected, yet ultimately creepy, turns, combining more “traditional” ghostly elements (mysterious voices, doors opening on their own, etc.) with some that are quite unique.
The one issue I have with “A Dark Song” is its climax. I give writer / director Nevin points for creativity (it’s not a finale you’ll see coming), but when you take into account all that went before it, the ending comes across as a bit too tidy.
Fortunately, it’s not enough to ruin what is an otherwise exceptional film, and thanks to the stellar performances delivered by its two leads, “A Dark Song” is one horror movie I’m anxious to check out again in the near future.
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