A Dark Song (2016)

Director: Liam Gavin.
Starring. Steve Oram. Catherine Walker. UK/Ireland/Wales. 1h 39m.

For a directorial debut things can’t get much better than this enlightened and powerful independent movie about grief, revenge and the harsh deeper side of the occult. An obviously distraught and confused mother, Sophia (Walker) rents an isolated house in rural Wales to try and convince an angry and unhinged occultist Joseph Solomon (Oram) to lead her through months of grueling rites in order to summer her Guardian Angel to grant her a special favor after her son was abducted and murdered, all she wants is to talk with him again.

Sophia follows the rules to the letter, collecting large amounts of supplies and spending thousands just to entice Joseph to the house and after some rugged persuasion he begrudgingly agrees but has reservations about Sophia’s motives but she is persistent and pretty durable, and she grinds through the punishing exercises, changing her diet, and begin soaked with chilled water, denied sleep and spends hours learning complex sigils and rituals. All the while in the dim secluded house that’s alien to them both and is constantly creaking and being generally creepy, Joseph remains a moody occult guide and rude rule maker, reading from the Book of Abramelin, and making some things up to help him keep his mind in the game, usually involving Sophia’s naked body.. Meanwhile Sophia doesn’t see enough results for her hard work, but ever so slowly the magic starts to work, or is it all a result of the demanding time locked away in the house with a volatile and pushy occultist?

The idea of having to deal with actual Demons doesn’t bother Sophia, meeting her guardian angel and being pushed to her limits is okay, but she totally refuses to do a forgiveness ritual and while she does notice a few bumps in the night and has surprised moments where slow motion golden flakes are snowed down on her in one of the rare upbeat scenes. Generally the build up is the dynamics between this odd pair who are both reluctant to share their past and have fronts a mile wide. Joseph eventually reveals that his wish is to be invisible, not as you’d think but to have some peace before the hell, this insight into him starts to really open channels into what this man is capable of and what he might have done in the past. He really is a man who’s seen it all but his only response is anger and degradation.

They’re not my killers, I’m just a cunt using your child’s voice to scare you.

After a shocking rebirthing ritual performed on Sophia for her lies, the film starts to take a sudden and dramatic turn, Joseph is convinced that the doorways are open and that they are moments away from getting their heavenly audience but there’s hell to pay first.

Steve Oram is a legend, possibly underrated, but not with me, I’ve always appreciated his ability to play some really difficult characters, his realisation of the serial killer with a heart of gold in Sightseers (2012) was obscure and perfect, being paired up with someone less zany than Alice Lowe, there is a brilliant play off with him and Catherine Walker in what mostly feels like a darkly beautiful chamber piece as the two transverse the occult in a way rarely seen in cinema. Unlike the explosion of movies from the 50’s to the 70’s heavily influenced by tales of Aleister Crowley there’s no robes and goat heads but instead digilant study, chalk circles and candles, but the emphasis on the person and personal energy is paramount.

It’s hard not to think of the early days of Ben Wheatley, as this film grows from a slow drama into something darker and more profound, it creeps up on the viewer, at first just seemly psychological but then it metamorphosis into something terribly real, a little late into the movie but no less powerful. Liam Gavin has done a wonderful job at connecting two very different elements of horror together in a wonderful unique story, definitely one to follow for future greatness, or at least I hope this isn’t a one off as cinema needs these little shake ups from time to time.

Rating 9/10

Related – Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012), Baskin (2015), Site 1 (2018)
Lists -A-Z of Occult Cinema, 20 Dark Films Vol 1
Article – Occult Perceptions in Cinema
Spotlight – Steve Oram

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