31 Days of Halloween — Day 10: A Dark Song (2017) — by Dr. Shock

31 Days of Halloween - A Dark Song 2016

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.

—Dr. Shock

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4 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 10: A Dark Song (2017) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 10 – The House of the Devil

    Along with 2015’s We Are Still Here, the Ti West directed film of The House of the Devil is the best example I can think of for a modern horror movie that so perfectly captured the feel of the 70’s or 80’s. The brilliance of West being able to capture the look of the 80’s isn’t just the sets, wardrobe, and hair, but also the cinematography. There’s a bit of grain to the film to help it resemble a film you may have watched on VHS. The still frames and opening credits also helped capture the feel of that time period. Whether the viewer is a fan of The House of the Devil or not, I’d imagine everyone would have to agree that West and company did a fantastic job at getting the right look.

    To say that The House of the Devil has a slow pace would be an understatement. The pace is extremely deliberate. Virtually nothing happens for the entire first hour. In fact, that’s why the death of Megan was so effective. We’re waiting for the film to properly get going and the viewer is left with their eyes slowly glazing over and then suddenly, Megan is shot to death out of nowhere. It’s a great moment. The methodical pacing also allows the viewer to relate to the lead character of Samantha. For the entire middle section of the film, she’s just left to roam around the house, bored, and waiting for something to happen. That’s exactly how the viewer feels. Like Samantha, we’re shown just enough weirdness to know that something isn’t right, but the viewer has absolutely no idea what’s actually going on, we just know that it’s not good. This pacing was also broken up with quite possibly my favorite musical montage ever. As Samantha is snooping around the house and dancing to “One Thing Leads to Another”, she’s forgotten her boredom or concerns, and the viewers temporarily forget about weirdness due to the fun of the song. There may not be a lot going on throughout the film, but I enjoy this lack of happenings thanks to the mystery of it all.

    I found Samantha to be a rather likable character. She’s presented as someone with a good head on her shoulders who is just trying to make it through life. The scene where Samantha escapes to the restroom to cry in peace (Naturally ensuring all of the faucets are running to drown out the sound of her crying), made her into a character I wanted to root for. Considering so much of the film is just Samantha hanging out, it’s critical that the film features a likable Samantha. Had Jocelin Donahue not nailed the role of Samantha, this film would have been an utter chore to sit through. I’d also like to throw some props to Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman. We don’t get to see a lot of Ulman, but when we do, he always comes across as being unsettling despite the fact that he’s not technically saying anything wrong in his meeting with Samantha early on in the movie.

    Unfortunately, after such a lengthy wait for something to happen, I wasn’t a fan of where the movie went in its third act. The satanic cult is certainly crazy and those final fifteen minutes is nonstop insanity, but it loses my interest. The problem may be centered around the fact that it’s a solid hour of buildup and mystery, without the viewer having any idea what the end result may be. This could cause expectations to be too high and for the viewers to forget that they’re watching a film that’s an ode to B-movies of the 80’s. This bizarre third act fits the film, but I’d be lying if I said my interest level was as high as it was for the first hour.

    Overall, The House of the Devil may have not made Ti West an A-List director, but it put him on every horror fan’s radar. I may not be a fan of where the film went, but it perfectly captures the feel of an 80’s horror film, the strategic pacing I find interesting, and the musical montage has caused me to listen to that The Fixx song far too many times than I care to admit. The House of the Devil helped make director Ti West into a notable horror director and after follow ups of The Innkeepers and The Sacrament, West has yet to disappoint.

    Rating: 8/10

  2. Thanks for the review Dr. Shock. I have seen this film around for a while but was unsure whether to invest my ime. For one, I was unsure if it was a true horror. Secondly, based on the description it seemed like a “slow burn”, which can get plodding until a final climax, and I tend to stay away from supernatural/possession type films as they all seem to follow cliches. Now knowing the acting and writing is strong, there are some unique twists and that the ending was not what you expected I am inclined to give A Dark Song a try. Now, for 2016 movies, if you have not seen the film, The Night of Something Strange, you must give it a try. Thanks for the review.

  3. Thanks Dr. Shock! Long time listener, first time commentor. I paid to rent this on iTunes a while ago and was pretty floored by it. Not that it’s on Netflix I went ahead and gave it a rewatch and further confirmed my first suspicions that this is a gem.

    I can’t remember the last time I was so enraptured by such a simple setting and two lone performances. There is such a permeating sense of dread that tangles it’s way through the whole film, due largely to the quality of the acting and the droning and creepy score.

    Can’t wait to see what else is coming down the pipeline this month!

  4. Day 10: Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

    This is Abbott and Costello’s last film from a highly successful and profitable run with Universal. Their comedic timing is impeccable and this film is packed full with jokes. That’s good because comedic elements aside the story can really drag. In the end the film concludes with a fun and mummy-filled final act. 7/10

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