A Dark Song (2016)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

A Dark Song is from Britain (okay, Britain and Ireland, whatever) and I’m from Britain. What’s not to like? Plot paragraph …

A woman damaged by loss and an occultist damaged by his past join together to perform a dark magical ritual. The ritual demands that they lock themselves in a remote house, shunning all communication with the outside world, and not leave for the weeks or months that it may take. As odd things start to occur the woman wonders if it is true magic or simply self-inflicted madness that she is witnessing.

Like a lot of movies at the recent International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017 A Dark Song arrived with handfuls of cool buzz festival circuit kudos.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The acting in A Dark Song is Grade A. For the first two reels I was totally hooked into the story of the clearly damaged Sophia Howard played by Catherine Walker and how she has to deal with unpleasant occultist areshole Joseph Solomon played by Steve Oram. They are truly amazing together. They play cinematic chalk and cheese to perfection. I was constantly worried for her and constantly worried about him.

The practical reality of the magical ritual is given serious air time and as a result it comes across as real. I’ve no practical magic barometer to gauge how ‘real’ the ritual is that they undertake but it looks like, if anything is going to work, it’s gonna be this stuff right here. The magic is shown not as an act of slight of hand with a few carefully chosen words of mumbo jumbo thrown in. Far from it. The magic presented in A Dark Song takes real time months of hard physical, mental, and dare I say it spiritual labor to see any kind of result. It looks like bloody hard work.

The use of sound in A Dark Song is exemplary. Much of the spooky thrills the movie offers simply come from sounds. Hats off to Cristina Aragon and the Sound Department for scaring the crap out of me with bumps and creaks.

Okay, good stuff over. Here’s where I had a big problem with A Dark Song; the ending. Please note that to avoid dropping any heavy spoilers on you I’ll talk in vague terms.

Expectation leads to disappointment (and often that’s our own fault for believing the hype, sure I got that) but I didn’t come to A Dark Song expecting anything. The expectation I gathered came from the slow burn of the movie itself. From scene one almost the entire movie has wonderfully dark building sense of dread and anticipation but when the finale hits, I was like, “What? Really? You’re going there? You’re showing me this?”

I saw A Dark Song with half a dozen friends and we all had different opinions about what the finale meant when the dust settled. I don’t mind ambiguity in an ending but I do mind one that feels out of place. There is a sense of inevitability about the dark place we are heading in the movie and I don’t feel we got there. We kinda, almost, maybe did.

The grand finale we get at best literally looks like unrelated scenes from a different movie and at worst feels like a cop out “Well you figure it out” ending. In other words director Liam Gavin‘s ending feels too clever for its own good and I ain’t buying it.

I can see why “I review everything and I don’t really like horror” regular movie critics might fall over themselves for A Dark Song because it could be seen as a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies. It looks like an old dark house chiller but plays like a psychological drama. It also looks a horror movie about faith but elements of so many faiths are thrown together that in the end it doesn’t speak to anyone, and comes off feeling safe in its ambiguity.

There is plenty of room at the wonderfully diverse horror table for everyone but for die-hard horror fans I can see a large chunk of the audience perhaps enjoying elements of the well-crafted journey but not appreciating the presentation of the destination.

Two word review: Partly excellent.

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