A Dark Song is an intense horror movie and a trip into Irish occultism. In his debut, Liam Gavin uses the genre to bring to surface a subject that most people find difficult to deal with: the loss of a son. Far above the average spooky movie, this feature disturbs and provokes. It shows that rituals can be a door to acceptance and detachment, which is after all a lifetime achievement.
Sophia (Catherine Walker) is overwhelmed with sadness since the death of her young son. She is determined to make contact with his soul at all costs. She hires a big mansion in the Irish forests and hires an occultist with experience in black magic called Solomon (Steve Oram). At first, he hesitates to accept her invitation. It seems his instincts are sending him a message not to go into that dark road again. But he then surrenders, as Sophia offers to pay a large amount of money. Well, maybe he should have heard his intuition.
Sophia has not told Solomon the main reason she wants to contact her deceased son. Occultists and spiritualists often distinguish people’s intention and desires when they claim they need a favour from deceased people. If they are moved by good intentions, they will reach out good spirits, and there is no peril in taking a journey into a hidden realm. Otherwise, they can conjure evil spirits.
But don’t worry: those bad spirits aren’t that scary anyway. There is a heavy soundtrack that prepares audience to the meeting: thick bass riffs and non-linear sounds. Also darkness contributes to the atmosphere. In general, though, horror movies question what the deceased want from the living. Here it is the opposite. That’s the most subversive aspect of A Dark Song.
Solomon initiates Sophia in a series of rituals, in which sex and alcohol are forbidden for her but not for him. There is also a special diet – or lack of food – that guides Sophia into visions. It is curious how Liam Gavin understands manipulation. Of course, as a guru, Solomon should be considered more powerful than Sophia. But in fact it is the opposite.
The rituals provide the film with a very rich architecture. There was a lot of research on occultist symbols and iconography. The fact that Sophia wants to understand with her mind the undertaking generates doubts if she will be successful. Reason is an obstacle on the way to reach spirituality. But her questioning works perfectly well in the film. It is not excessively didactic; instead it fuels the mystery.
A Dark Song will not make you jump from your seat and give you nightmares. This is not a schlock hair raiser. Instead, it will take you on a emotional rollercoaster and make you reassess your concepts of humanity and cult.
This piece was originally published was the film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016. The film is out in cinemas on April 7th. Also, you can watch the film trailer right here: