Fantastic Fest 2016 Movie Review: A DARK SONG

Director/Writer: Liam Gavin.

Actors: Catherine Walker and Steve Oram.

Throughout history, the use of magic and the occult has been shown to represent arrogance of man and the depth people are willing to climb down to to get what they want.

In director Liam Gavin’s debut film, A DARK SONG, we see the dehumanizing and humiliating ways that a woman, Sophia (Walker), will go to get closure after , she hires an occultist to help her conduct a six-month dark magic ritual. As we find out during the movie, her child was killed recently. So obviously, invoking demons is the way to handle that.

The movie is a visceral experience that must be seen in a theater. For one, the cinemtaopgrahy is beautiful. The  majority of the movie takes place in an isolate house in the Irish countryside. We get to see it in both its magnificent and colorful splendor but also it can be an isolated and bleak place that mirror’s Sophie’s anguish during much of the movie. In fact for 90% of it, the movie is covered in greys and everything adding to the dreadful atmosphere.

Another reason to see it in the theater? It’s killer score. Using a mix of drone, dissonance, percussion and strings, the score sounds more like an artsy black metal album than a traditional horror movie score. It complements instead of overpowering. It’s one of those that deserves a thorough vinyl release by a Mondo or Death Waltz.

The movie only really has two characters, Sophie and Joseph (Oram), the occultists she hired to guide him through the ritual. And they are both outstanding. Ms. Walker just reeks of angry mourning and rage in every scene and her determination to finish this ritual lead her to starve her self, get naked, read chants for long enough to piss herself and much more.

Steve Oram is equally intense but more frustrated as he knows the rules and knows how dangerous messing up the ritual can be, while it can feel a bit one-note it also totally makes sense given where the ritual goes.

The biggest problem of the movie is that it can feel a bit repetitive in its middle due to the length of the ritual. You can only hear chanting and see weird pentagrams on the floor before it all starts to blur. Thankfully the movie ramps up to what can only be described as one of the most out-there climaxes featuring all sorts of mythical creatures.

Without getting spoilery it also explores themes of redemption as it relates to magic in this world. In most media once you’ve made a deal with the devil or a demon, you are damned but instead Gavin wants to explore how and what makes someone want to do better after being so misguided.

The movie is an impressive debut. The director feels like he’s been doing for a while. Everything from set design to themes feel confident and despite its lagging middle, the movie is outstanding.

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Javier Fuentes

Javier Fuentes