Why I Love A Dark Song
"Not everything can be forgiven."
A Dark Song was written and directed by Liam Gavin. It is probably my favourite Irish film ever made. It is a very scary movie, yes, but the real secret of its success is its incredibly moving and emotionally complex heart. The story follows Sophia's attempts to get revenge for the murder of her son. To do this she employs Joseph Solomon who has a gift for dark magic. The film stars Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, who both turn in excellent performances, each with their own baggage that endangers their ability to see the ritual through successfully. The large majority of A Dark Song's running time is occupied with these two characters, and it is a hell of a thing to witness. There is no jumping around to different perspectives on the story, there is just the incredibly claustrophobic time spent with Sophia and Solomon. Most actors couldn't pull this off and it is a testament to Walker and Oram that the viewer never becomes tired of their story together.
I love Horror movies and I'm Irish, so it is with great pride that I say that A Dark Song is one of the best Horror movies of the last decade. It is, I think, the best crafted and intriguing Irish film I've ever seen, alongside other greats like Calvary by John Michael McDonagh. The secret to A Dark Song is that it isn't satisfied with simply scaring the audience - and it does in a very effective, innovative way - it also wants to actually say something. You care about the characters, flaws and all, and you are wrapped up and carried along with their mission to take revenge for an unforgivable crime. Horror helps us come to terms with our mortality and to better understand the pain and grief that comes from losing a loved one. I compare A Dark Song to The Babadook, a similarly staggering and beautiful movie, in its ability to move at the same time as consuming you with panic and fear. If you liked The Babadook, you will love A Dark Song.
A Dark Song kind of makes me want to get into the occult - not in a dangerous way, I promise - because all of the details in the movie seem so genuine and on point. The repetition of the ritual is hypnotic. All of the pain that both Walker and Oram go through in their attempt to set a great wrong right makes you feel like you have been with them all the way. The film never overstays its welcome, running just under an hour and forty minutes. You feel like you have been present for the entire duration of the ritual, and I don't mean that in a negative way. It is so all consuming and intense. When Solomon insists that Sophia drink his blood to get around a part of the ritual, it is one of the most disturbing and effective horror scenes since Regan said "Your mother sucks cock in Hell." There are other shared elements between A Dark Song and that classic The Exorcist, namely that it treats the supernatural in a completely believable way. Just like in The Exorcist, A Dark Song presents its supernatural elements only after establishing an immensely realistic world. When things go crazy, you do not need to take a leap of faith to believe in it.
The ending of the movie is my favourite part of the film. In asking for the power to forgive, Sophia lets go of all her pain and steps back from the brink of ultimate destruction. These last moments moved me, genuinely, to tears. I have had pain in my life - granted, nothing like losing a child - and I felt a great kinship with Sophia as she decided it was better to let go than to hold on and to inflict terrible suffering on others. Liam Gavin earns the ending at every point. It is not a simple happy ending, it is something that logically follows from what preceded it. I am not a religious person but since losing my father six months ago, I feel that there is a lot of worth to be had in art that examines the possibilities of life and death. I have mentioned this before but after my father Noel died, I had such intense dreams where he spoke to me. If that was me doing that, then there is more in me than I had ever considered possible. I had a dream last night and Noel was telling me how he is at peace and how he will meet me again. Again as an atheist I don't really believe in an afterlife, but in the moment it really, really felt like it was real. Art, unlike religion, does not demand that you alter your life and subscribe to a set of rules. Art allows all of us, theist, atheist and anti-theist, to examine our feelings and beliefs in a safe space. No genre does this better than Horror, and very few Horror films have done this as well as A Dark Song.
A Dark Song is a movie about being trapped by grief. It is about an overpowering sense that you don't want to live anymore, that you are finished with life. Without your loved one you are lost. It is a hole in your life that can never be filled or repaired. I think anyone who has lived life for a time will understand and relate to the story told here, especially parents. I am reminded of the horrific Madeline McCann disappearance, and all of the hatred directed towards the parents who, while definitely making a mistake, did not deserve to be prosecuted by the court of public opinion in such a harsh manner. To lose a child, and especially to not even know what happened to them, is something most people can't even being to imagine. I like to believe that those who have lost their children, especially in such grim circumstances, will find something in A Dark Song that helps them move on with their lives.
A Dark Song is also about someone who can't forgive themselves for letting it happen, even if of course they are not at fault. A parent will always first take the blame on themselves, before they start lashing out at those who deserve the blame. The film's closing scenes are incredibly scary, as Sophia is plunged into the hell she created for herself. If she had not asked for the power to forgive, she would have been trapped there forever. Like The Babadook, A Dark Song offers up the thought that grief has its place, but it mustn't consume you and twist you into a monster. It's a slow burner, but once things go down it is intense as all hell. I love the scene with Sophia and her "son" and the dog. There is so much fear expressed in those moments and the question of "What is behind that door?" Great design too on the various lost souls who populate the film's closing moments.
A Dark Song is then I think one of the greatest Horror movies of the last decade. It is frightening and disturbing, but also incredibly moving and beautiful. I think it is the kind of movie that people who don't like Horror movies, would find something to love in it. Sure it might be a bit intense at times, but there is so much to admire and take from it that it is sure to impress and entrance, just as it did me. It is unusual and innovative in the way it utilizes a minimalist landscape, and what is essentially a two actor job, and tells a story that examines the very fabric of reality. It is a movie about how deep love can twist you into a monster, and also about how you can avoid that fate. The movie is currently on Netflix and iTunes, so you've no excuse for not checking it out. I watched it first at a friend's house and then proceeded to buy it when it was released on iTunes. You won't regret watching it, I promise.