A DARK SONG (2016)
Written and Directed by Liam Gavin
Grieving for her dead child, lost soul Sophia will do just about anything to speak to her son again. Finding the perfect house in the countryside, she hires unhinged occultist Joseph Solomon to help her connect with the ‘other side’ to get her wish. However, after endless days of performing the ritual, Sophia begins to have doubts about Solomon’s methods, putting both their lives in great danger.
Liam Gavin’s debut feature film A DARK SONG is a bold, dialogue-driven British thriller set in the isolated Welsh countryside (even though it’s actually shot in Ireland). Delving into the occult and the rituals required to reach higher beings, both benevolent and malevolent, the film sees the bulk of the plot put on the shoulders of its two leading stars, Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, who must work together to successfully perform the ritual, one that Sophia (Walker) has paid a high price for.
Desperate and full of emptiness, Sophia is like any mother who has suffered the loss of a child. Unable to move on with her life, she’s stuck in a state of depression which is a cause for concern for her sister who helpless watches on, unable to snap Sophia out of her quest. However, one person is more than happy to entertain Sophia’s hopes and dreams of reconnecting with her late son, albeit at the right price. Blunt, no-nonsense Solomon (Oram) has experience in performing the ritual needed to connect to the other side. Begrudgingly agreeing to help Sophia, Solomon firmly instructs what is expected of her and explains he will stand for no messing about and that she must follow his every word. Having cleansed her body of alcohol and abstaining from sex, she has followed every preparation required in order to begin the ritual but nothing she’s done can prepare her for the peculiar methods required of her by Solomon.
With a line of salt drawn around the house chosen for the ritual, Solomon makes it clear that under no circumstances can they leave the house or there will be hell to pay like you cannot imagine. Initially thinking Solomon’s prattling is nothing more than some hocus pocus, she soon fears his wrath as her uncooperation on certain tasks sees her on the receiving end of Solomon’s ruthless anger. With fear of risking the entire ritual and losing the only person who’s able to connect her with the dead, she begins to do as Solomon asks but as the days go by and the two become ever more isolated from the outside world, Sophia begins to wonder whether any of it will work at all.
The majority of A DARK SONG is strongly focused on the relationship between these two strangers and the trust the broken mother puts into this man who’s supposedly a master of the occult. As you’re sat watching the horrid punishment-like tasks Solomon puts her through, you begin to wonder if any of this will actually work or whether he’s just stringing her along for kicks. Weeks go by and you can tell Sophia is becoming agitated at a lack of ‘action’ from the other side which only seems to fuel Solomon’s anger. The scenes between the two during the ritual tasks and after Sophia’s disobeyment can be difficult to watch as we see Solomon lose it with her again and again. You wonder whether she should just walk away but the draw of speaking to her son again seems to overwrite any thoughts of commonsense.
When the punch finally comes in the final quarter of the film, it plays out weaker than expected. Like something out of an Insidious film, the strong dialogue and interactions between the two characters are dropped for a series of jumps in the dark which don’t entirely work. A bit of CGI thrown in with the breakdown of a certain character leaves a less than satisfying ending to what was a nail-biting, extremely tense character-driven drama.
Whilst it ultimately might not pay off how you’d like it to, the outstanding performances from Catherine Walker and Steve Oram will surely keep viewers captivated throughout this promising first feature effort from Liam Gavin.