Grieving mum seeks atonement for murdered sonMost horror films seem to populate their casts with masochists. They summon up demons to plague them. They run repeatedly into the face of danger. They seem geared towards inflicting the greatest amount of punishment on themselves for the least possible gain.
Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) at first seems to embody the same need for self-immolation in this Welsh/Irish co-production. Having lost her faith as a result of the killing of her young son, she spends her life savings on an aggressive medium called Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), who claims he’ll be able to invoke the boy’s spirit – and Sophia’s own guardian angel – in a macabre ritual so she can gain revenge on his killers.
It’s a ghoulish (if not contradictory) precept in a primarily ghoulish movie. Notwithstanding this, there’s a nod towards purgation at the end. This didn’t work for me as it was decidedly out of sync with the main mood of the film, which threatens to explode into a full-scale horrorfest at any given moment.
The fact that it doesn’t is down to the eccentricity of writer-director Liam Gavin, whose debut feature it is. He sets it in an isolated mansion but apart from this conventional staple of the horror genre he eschews most of its conventions.
No squeaky doorknobs here, then. No severed heads tumbling out of closest as things go bump in the night. Instead Solomon and Walker tease out a kind of class war (she’s posh, he’s working class) as he puts her through rigorous – and, in one scene, terrifying – ordeals.
One always expected this elliptical film to end weirdly and it does, going from David Lynch territory to a kind of symphonic ode to forgiveness. Can one be expected to ‘buy’ this quasi-religious transmogrification? Not really. Catharses should be led up to.
For the rest of the time it’s a claustrophobic two-hander that has Walker and Solomon feeding off one another in a series of baroque encounters replete with the requisite amount of mumbo-jumbo that seems de rigueur for black magic cult movies.
Gavin’s penchant for glumness means that A Dark Song will, at best, only attract a niche audience. I approached it with some optimism as it was well received in the press but it failed to live up to its expectations on a number of levels.
My main problem with it was the fact that neither of the main leads are particularly likeable.
You don’t really care what happens to them, which is a major stumbling block as there’s really nothing in the film besides them.
With a little less preciousness and a little more variation in the mise-en-scenes this could have been another Sixth Sense. Instead, it’s more like The Blair Witch Project – without the witch.
Devout occultists – if that isn’t an oxymoron – will admire it but most people will probably leave the cinema scratching their heads and wondering aloud, “what was all that about?”