Tensions fray between an occult practitioner and a desperate mother in Liam Gavin‘s flawed chamber piece, A Dark Song.
Struggling to come to terms with the death of her young child, Sophia (Catherine Walker) turns to dark magic to relieve the unbearable pressure of her grief. After procuring a large isolated house in rural Wales, she calls on Solomon (Sightseers’ Steve Oram) to lead her through the intimate ‘procedure’.
Gavin drew on real-world ritualism to create the film’s central rite. Many recognisable elements are present – candles, beautifully crafted intricate floor markings and spoken incantations – but they are just surface details. The real summoning goes on in the mind. The process takes months, during which time Sophia and Solomon are entirely housebound. They don’t get on all that well to begin with, so tensions are high from the off.
The power struggle between the two is one of the film’s most interesting facets, but Gavin never makes the most of it. By choosing to play with the temporal fluidity, he only really tells us how long and hard this process is rather than actually showing us. Walker and Oram are game and their performances reach suitably deep and dark places. But, we never get to really feel just how horrible this procedure would be. The rocky editing does do a fair job of reflecting their increased mania, as Sophia yoyos from seemingly unjustified hopefulness to impatient anger. However, we’re not sure whether these two moments are weeks apart, or whether she is ricocheting from one to the other on a dime.
The dialogue also comes across as strangely artificial and is crippled by odd rhythmic idiosyncrasies. The occult babble doesn’t help: it just adds further confusion to an already flimsy set of rules, as Solomon rebuffs Sophia’s questions with yet more frustrating spouting. There’s also some pretty harsh language from both parties, which is an unfortunate distraction.
Things do start to escalate in the final act and Gavin takes us to some creepy places, but I was passed really caring, by that point. That being said, Sophia’s final emotional discovery does work nicely. As does Ray Harman‘s score: it has echoes of Jed Kurzel‘s work on last year’s Macbeth with its painful and unsettling strings, but it also has a softer side that breaks through at select moments.
A Dark Song has the crux of an interesting idea, but doesn’t deliver a particularly satisfying journey on the way to its resonant conclusion. I wanted to leave the house, but not because I was overwhelmed by the claustrophobia, more because I was done with Sophia and Solomon.