May 19, 2019
Welcome back to another week of reviews. Last week was jam packed with guest reviews from our talented pool of critics. This week, it’ll be Andrew with another Fantastic Fest feature, and then yours truly for the rest, including three Netflix originals, the latest in the John Wick franchise, and an Irish horror film from A24 that you probably missed in the theaters, but received very high praise.
Speaking of Irish horror films, I decided for this week’s classic review to go back to one of the first films for the podcast that took me completely by surprise. “A Dark Song” was distributed by IFC Midnight, one of my favorite genre producers/distributors, and while their content can be hit or miss, I’ve found when it hits, it really hits. And “A Dark Song” definitely hits, especially if you are fascinated by magick and the occult. It currently sits at a 92% Certified Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 71 at Metacritic. You can catch the film streaming on Netflix, Hoopla, Shudder, and Popcornflix. If you love occult films, this is the one for you!
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “A Dark Song”, an occult horror film written and directed by Liam Gavin and distributed by IFC Midnight. The film follows Sophia (Catherine Walker), a mother who lost her son three years ago, who has sought out an occultist named Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) to help her contact his dead spirit through a series of gnostic rituals.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly over trodden premise. Summoning films come in many forms, generally relying on lighting tricks and blood-soaked imagery, unconsciously based more on anti-Satanism propaganda than any study into Crowley or other gnostic systems. “A Dark Song”, however, is well researched, drawing inspiration from actual occultist writings and concepts, which embeds itself within the sets and props and dialogue.
I love how seriously this film takes itself, from preparing the ritual to working through the purification, feeling the often frayed, raw emotions of Sophia and Joseph. Catherine Walker plays Sophia well, struggling with disbelief and hope, while Steve Oram’s Joseph teeters between being extremely serious and intermittently unreliable, making you wonder if this entire process is one big farce. Both actors turn in quality performances, a key factor in any small cast film.
Gavin also makes use of the beautiful countryside, making it a part of the story. Ray Harmon’s minimal score works well to accent each scene and to smooth the transitions. I think my only criticism for the film is the ending. I can easily see this may have been the intent, bringing Sophia’s internal struggles about her son to a head, but it felt atonal compared to the rest of the film.
“A Dark Song” raises expectations for future summoning films, an impressive feat for Liam Gavin’s first feature-length film. Open-minded viewers will find a serious, intentioned film. And viewers who are interested in the occult will appreciate the attention to detail, even if not exactly correct in its execution.