October 18, 2017 – This film is going to be talked about for quite some time. It’s intense, original, and defies many, many expectations. It will probably get backlash, mostly by virtue of having to be packaged and marketed alongside Saw 12, Curse of Chucky or Paranormal Activity 45. I hate to summon the dreaded “post-horror” category, but A Dark Song could be comfortably placed there. I don’t care over-much, but you can call it “horror” in the same way that a quiet ghost story like The Haunting or The Others is horror.
Plot: Grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) despairs over the tragic loss of her murdered son. Desperate to somehow make contact with the boy she has lost, Sophia believes her prayers are answered when she crosses paths with the reclusive Joseph (Steve Oram, Sightseers). An expert in the occult, Joseph reluctantly agrees to aid Sophia through a series of dark and forbidden rituals in order to bring her child back to the world of the living. Pushed to their physical and psychological breaking points, Sophia and Joseph make a disturbing descent into the most depraved corners of black magic. (Source: editorial reviews, amazon.com)
Entering heavy spoiler territory, let’s discuss the leads. As Sophia, Catherine Walker is brittle, determined and justifiably full of pain. What a performance. She’s a woman who is choosing to undertake a harrowing, high occult trial, and this is fairly rare. In fiction, supernatural encounters or magic powers are something that either happen passively to a protagonist – especially a female one – or that come quite easily after reading one spell or picking up one magic trinket. Not so here. Magic is tough, tough work, and it will make three hours of kneeling at church seem like a pleasant picnic.
Steve Oram plays Joseph, the occultist hired by Sophia to execute the ritual. Understand that they both must be locked in the same house for months and repeat the ritual many times before they ever even see any sign that it is working. Occultists and magicians, especially in UK fiction, tend to be Byronic and sexy figures. Think John Constantine in the DC Comics. Big Hollywood would have probably made these two leads fall in love, and made sure the actor had plenty of sex appeal. Again I repeat: not so here. Joseph was an awful, ugly, ordinary, contemptible, horrible, misogynistic man. I hated him and couldn’t imagine how Sophia could stand to be in the same room with him for one minute.
Thiswas a good thing and speaks highly of Oram’s performance. His nastiness and their crazed relationship unfolds into something that’s meaningful and requires careful analysis.
Idon’t know how to avoid cliches like “beautifully shot” and “slow burn” and “gorgeous cinematography”, so I won’t. All these apply.
I mean it now – stop reading if you don’t want to be badly spoiled. The endgame of the movie is fascinating. It turns out that Sophia was dishonest in presenting her motives for the ritual. This was not about contacting her beloved dead child. It was about cold, hard vengeance (and a wrinkle I hope to discuss with others – her child was sacrificed in an occult ritual. Are we talking shades of satanic panic here?).
But even so, despite her motive, her experience leads her to a very Christian state of grace. The ritual itself has basis in the Abramelin ritual derived from Western esoteric magical traditions.
What a curve ball. I loved this movie.
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