A Dark Song (2016) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. We are off to my home country of Wales for day 9 of our 31 Days of Halloween feature as we take a look at A Dark Song from 2016. This is a very slow moving horror movie that goes heavy into the occult but it works so much better than most movies like this. Coming by way of Irish-Welsh director Liam Gavin. It is probably fair to say that A Dark Song doesn’t really get the credit it deserves. Let’s take a look.
I always start these articles by reminding you that if you are participating in an October horror movie a day marathon. Then you can check out our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween 2022 list for inspiration or even our A Tubi 31 Days of Halloween for a whole selection of movies available to watch completely free. You can also just follow along with the reviews we will be releasing every day. These reviews will be sticking to a shorter format as most of these movies are old and there isn’t a great deal I can say about them that hasn’t already been said.
Irish and Welsh Collaboration Horror
A Dark Song follows the story of Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grieving mother who turns to the occult in a desperate attempt to find some resolution after the death of her son. Renting a large house in rural Wales, Sophia enlists the help of a short tempered, alcoholic, expert in the occult called Solomon (Steve Oram). Together, the pair begin a months long ritual to summon Sophia’s guardian angel so that she can make a request to finally put her mind at peace.
This movie is an Irish and Welsh collaboration brought about by director Liam Gavin’s dual citizenship. Born in North Wales to Irish parents. Gavin eventually managed to acquire funding from both countries to make one of the better British Isle’s horror movies of recent years. While filmed predominantly in Dublin and Wicklow. The movie is set in Wales and features a few references to a bunch of places that are super local to me which is pretty cool to see in a horror movie.
Wales has featured in a number of horror films including the gorgeous, but rather boring, Gwen. It’s a shame the filmmaker’s didn’t manage to get out and capture more of the Welsh hills as there is some truly breathtaking scenery along the North Wales coast. Still, Ireland is extremely similar and it’s great to see a collaboration between the two Celtic nations.
Slow, Tense and Brooding
A Dark Song is an extremely slow moving horror movie that eschews the more modern format of high octane action and jump scares. Instead opting to drag the viewer into a veritable pressure cooker of tension and unease. For the vast majority of the movie; we are simply voyeurs into the world of Sophia and Solomon as they carefully prepare and complete each different stage of the rite.
We aren’t the victims of randomly placed, obnoxiously loud, bangs or shadows seen in the corners of eyes. We aren’t tasked with furiously background watching. Instead, we are simply asked to observe. Something that is a massive breath of fresh air when it comes to horror. In this day and age of shortened attention spans and desire for results. This movie represents a significant risk.
Of course, this wouldn’t work if the movie wasn’t so utterly compelling. A Dark Song is consistently engaging throughout. The solemn purpose for Sophia being at the house and performing the rite is intriguing enough. But her motivations are never fully revealed until later in the movie. Creating a consistent desire to know more about her and know more about her plans. It’s fascinating stuff. It has to be pointed out, however, that the movie is powered by its characters and their interactions.
Sophia and Solomon are extremely different people. Sophia is reserved and stoic. Solomon is quick to anger and irrationally reactive. Making for frequent moments of interpersonal tension and explosive arguments between the pair. Liam Gavin has expertly captured the real life result of two people existing together within a small space with no escape. It’s bad enough that the two have such disparate personalities. But when you add in to the mix the motivating factors for them being there; it creates a situation that doesn’t let up for one second when it comes to conflict and unease.
It has to be pointed out that A Dark Song is something of a rarity in the horror world. It is a movie that is legitimately scary and effective but only focuses on two characters. I am actually reminded of movies like The Shining when I watch this. Or, more recently, The Autopsy of Jane Doe which does a similar thing but in a much different way. There’s something very special about horror that manages to do so much with such a small cast.
It works so well here, completely piling on the claustrophobia and making the situation all the more relatable to the viewer. All while, somehow, never getting old. Sophia and Solomon’s relationship is constantly evolving and expanding. Consistently adding to the tension while weaving an intricate story about two very different people coming together for a common goal. It’s as much a character and human relationship study as it is a horror movie. Adding layer upon layer of depth to the story. Again, this is another tremendous risk and shows what a daring filmmaker Liam Gavin truly is. The fact that it works deserves significant praise.
Occult Horror With Religious Themes
Naturally, A Dark Song is going to find an audience in people who enjoy matters of the occult. The keenly observed and researched practices of the rite play out on screen in a way that you might not expect. Unlike From Black that heavily indulges in the actual rites themselves and the immediate results. A Dark Song is far more subtle. We don’t actually see anything taking place. We only see the set up or the result.
It’s almost as if the viewer is there at the start but asked to leave during the middle. Only allowed to return at the end or to take a cheeky look every now and then. It’s a great way of doing things and gives a real sense of struggle as each part of the rite feels taxing and drawn out while never exposing the viewer to the process.
At its heart, however. A Dark Song is a tale of grief, loss, and finding resolution in the darkest of moments. There are references to faith and belief that never feel too on the nose. And a hint that something ethereal exists beyond what we see around us. Some may be put off by this but, again, it is very subtle. The ending really ramps up the horror and is genuinely creepy and unsettling. Again, the movie doesn’t venture into jump scares. But the imagery here is very effective and, honestly, chilling. It’s not going to scare your pants off but movies like this shouldn’t.
Final Thoughts and Score
I don’t want to get too lost in the reeds on this review. I could write for hours about movies like this but barely anyone would read it. This film has been around for awhile and plenty of people have, likely, talked about it. It’s just a movie that came out of nowhere for me and I seriously enjoyed. It’s not going to be for everyone. It is extremely slow and the firm character focus may leave a few people struggling to engage in the story. But this is a movie that understands horror and understands pacing.
If you like horror with strong characters and well researched and well executed ideas; A Dark Song is a hidden gem. It is deeply unsettling, tense, powerful and extremely brooding. But it is also a story of hope which I think is a great thing. It can be an intense movie but the fantastic acting and brilliant direction should keep you invested throughout. Hell, there’s even a laugh or two in there. All of that is without mentioning Cathal Watters’ gorgeous cinematography. One of the best horrors from Britain and Ireland in years.