A Dark Song
2017, NR, 100 min. Directed by Liam Gavin. Starring Catherine Walker, Susan Loughnane, Mark Huberman, Steve Oram.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 26, 2017
A lost child and a keening mother, an ominous manse in Wales, and the intricacies of the occult are all filtered through the excruciatingly eerie lens of Irish filmmaker Liam Gavin in this, his taut, unnerving feature film debut. Much talked about at Fantastic Fest 2016, A Dark Song earns every bit of praise that’s been directed its way. So slow is the burn, so literally hellish the stakes for Sophia (Walker), whose young boy has been murdered by persons unknown, and Joseph (Oram), an earthy, bearded worker of black magic. Locking themselves in the aforementioned mansion – similar in stone and scale to that of Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting – for a period of six months, the pair attempt to break through the portal betwixt life and death so that she may have one final conversation with her little boy. Suffice to say, things go bump in the night, and then utterly awry, but Gavin’s direction is so damnably excellent that’s it’s fair to say that this is the finest shocker of the year thus far, by far. A Dark Song will chill your blood and adhere to your dreams like some sort of demonic lamprey. By the way, what’s that behind you?
Fans of Ben Wheatley’s oeuvre will recognize a certain amount of that director’s offbeat influence, in particular the oft-times surreal tone of his magnificent A Field in England (Oram co-starred in Wheatley’s 2012 Sightseers). There’s also tonal nods to trippy 1970s freakouts Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and possibly The Legend of Hell House, but ultimately Gavin’s debut is its own brand of nightmare. Walker and Oram are perfectly cast here. It’s impossible to figure out who’s the madder one, so driven by their collective need to break the bounds of reason. The harsh, atonal score by composer Ray Harman is a masterpiece of hair-raising instrumentality that’s every bit as grand and discomfiting as the images onscreen, and cinematographer Cathal Watters’ use of natural light – or the lack thereof – is profoundly distressing, in the best possible way. Everybody likes to be scared by a horror film, but A Dark Song is so much more than genre fare. It’s a movie about loss and love, the bond between mother and son, and the unholy price of grief gone wild. It is, in fact, an instant classic, the sort of film that will make you check under your bed at night and then amplify into terror the midnight creaks and 3am breezes that unsettle every house at times, most especially yours. Highly recommended.