A Dark Song makes its first impression as a slow-building drama, opening atmospherically with a mournful score and moody timelapse photography of stormy skies. Leads Catherine Walker and Steve Oram walk a fine line between acting very well and very badly. Walker can be wooden and robotic, though this is partly justified by her character’s grief. Oram is gruff and humorously matter of fact but delivers the screenplay’s over-egged obscenities with faltering conviction, and relies too much on unconvincing shouting.
Despite the focus on elaborate and sometimes ridiculous ritual, the story is grounded in a mundane and familiar world through preamble set in a train station and chip shop. Writer-director Liam Gavin attempts to suggest that perhaps Solomon (Oram) is merely duping Sophia (Walker), yet doesn’t introduce enough doubt to misdirect fully. Any shreds of mystery are dissipated well before the conclusion.
The repetitive nature of the rituals renders the narrative arc circular, until the final act plunges into effective (yet not at all groundbreaking) horror thrills and chills. Gavin’s directing skill is better exhibited in quiet, discomforting moments of coercion and manipulation. The juxtaposition of such moments with offbeat humour used to surprise or release tension adds some much needed edginess. However, at several points the spell is broken by prominent flawed and misjudged effects, including extremely annoying whispery echoes and a laughable guardian angel.
Ray Harman’s varied music holds the film together but goes beyond imposing tone and emotion, almost overwhelming the inferior story with its huge personality.
A Dark Song can be breathlessly scary yet it’s a much easier watch than Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, from which it may have borrowed themes and backstory. The dark beauty of a few moments eclipses the increasingly ludicrous whole.
CAST: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Mark Huberman, Susan Loughnane
DIRECTOR: Liam Gavin
WRITER: Liam Gavin
SYNOPSIS: 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.