By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Writer-director Liam Gavin’s invocation thriller A Dark Song (2016), is fascinating. This is true in the wide-spread knowledge of its subject matter that is dispensed throughout its one-hundred-minute length. Such a quality is also present in the manner Gavin keeps us questioning the motivations, actions and dedication of our credibly etched leads. These are the domineering Joseph Soloman and the vulnerable, audience sympathy-deriving Sophia Howard (Steve Oram and Catherine Walker respectively). This intriguing inquiry accrues in the deliberate lack of specifics in the early sequences. It is also spied in the authenticity of the unfolding event itself. Oram and Walker’s performances, Cathal Watters’ immersive cinematography and Ray Harman’s masterful, creaky and immediately classic score are just as riveting. Gavin’s ever-taunt guidance and meticulously crafted authorship of the project propels this factor. His dialogue is especially believable. The results are appropriately and endlessly eerie, unsettling and haunting.
In turn, Gavin’s impressive full-length feature debut calls to mind a decidedly darker version of several thematically related genre greats. These are Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) and Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others (2001). This is noteworthy in the methodical and carefully assembled structure inherent in these previously stated motion pictures. Such a comparison is also augmented in Gavin’s brilliant ability to immediately generate an unbroken mood of intensity and impending doom. This is while instilling an ever-extant sense of mystery. Best of all, Gavin avoids the easy trappings of narrative tropes, jump scares and clichés at every corner. As a matter of fact, the bulk of the nail-biting herein are held in the enigma of the unfolding plot itself. Such only immensely enhances the life-mirroring nature of the production.
Additionally, Gavin evokes an unyielding focus on characterization. Such makes this brooding, quietly tense tale of a woman who will go to great lengths to contact her deceased son again and a questionable occultist who may be manipulating her a stylistic masterclass. Correspondingly, the elegiac and engaging concluding configurations are perfect. They emotively cap off all the varied sensations that arose beforehand.
Ultimately, Gavin has provided viewers with an uncompromising, mature and unforgettable reminder of why movies such as these remain ever popular. In a year that is shaping up to be incredible for cinema of this ilk, A Dark Song, which was distributed through IFC Midnight, is certainly one of the standout entries in this category.
(Unrated). Contains brief nudity, adult themes and some gory moments.
Available today in select theaters and video on demand.