Written & Directed by: Liam Gavin
Starring: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram
There must be a secret competition underway; a competition between directors to discover who can stretch the description of a ‘horror’ film without being kicked to death by horror fans. I was putting my kicking boots on after watching It Comes at Night but paused to watch A Dark Song.
The boots are back on.
Don’t get me wrong – the entire premise of this film is a grieving mother’s attempt to use the supernatural to exact vengeance upon her little boy’s killers and that is a back story ripe for all manner of horror. The problem is debut director Liam Gavin’s meek treatment of the script he also wrote.
Catherine Walker plays Sophia, a woman whose life has crumbled after her young son’s ritual murder. The grief is turning into viciousness directed at family, her marriage is over and she has just finished a stint at a psychiatric hospital. Sophia lives only for retribution.
To that end, she employs the services of Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram). But there is no employer-employee relationship here – ‘Mr. Solomon’ makes it very clear who’s in charge.
Joseph is hardly the typical wise, understanding, shaman-type character we regularly see in this role. Really, in one word, Joseph is a dick. He proves that repeatedly in the first half of the film, but especially blatantly in one scene of deception. (Sophia does avenge herself for that one, in a fashion.)
The theme of dishonesty – on the part of both primary characters – figures heavily. Much of what Joseph does and commands Sophia to do seems arbitrary. It is impossible to tell what is part of the ritual and what is his own perverse sadism at play.
Locked up in an isolated house for what is shown to be months, he is taking Sophia through the arduous and grueling Abramelin procedure. Success will allow both of them to meet her guardian angel and ask for one favor each.
As I watched Sophia toil through the course of study, diet and self-control prescribed by Joseph, it reminded me of the film, Upstream Color. In it, the lead female character is compelled (through a drug) to follow a set pattern of eating and studying similar to what Sophia undergoes. It was a better movie.
A Dark Song’s main problem is its many false starts. Throughout the movie, characters say things and events occur that imply that our patience will soon be rewarded. It never really is, not until the very end. And at this point, the return is much too mild to be very scary at all.
Vicious pounding from the other side of a door, a single scene of an ominous shadowy figure and a ‘descent’ in the final fifteen minutes is all the horror we get.
The star of the film is its score – the rhythmic, jarring music carries more promise of blackness, death and the macabre than all the mediocre scares the acting and cinematography can muster.
Gavin had a chance to redeem himself by allowing Sophia to get what she has always wanted at the end but squandered it. Touchy-feely fans:1, Horror fans: 0.