IFC MIDNIGHT (2017)
Director: Liam Gavin
Starring: Steve Oram, Catherine Walker
“We’re doing something much darker…”
(Like drinking Steve Oram's BLOOD)
It's always a great statement to hear when it’s just yourself stuck with one other person in a mansion in the middle of nowhere – i.e. rural Wales. After her young son was abducted by teenagers and murdered in a cultist ritual, Sophia (Walker) spirals into a vicious depression and her need for revenge intensifies with each passing day. In her grief, she turns to occultist Joseph Solomon (Oram) for his help in delivering sweet retribution.
Sensible and rational decision.
In order to summon a guardian angel that will enable Sophia to talk with her son and also grant her and Joseph one unattainable wish each, Sophia must undergo a gruelling and demanding six-month ritual that will cleanse and purify her (and protect them from the evil that lurks within the magic). Whilst enduring the ritual, the house is sealed from the outside world, leaving Sophia with only Joseph’s company. Far from being a courteous host, Joseph is a short-tempered tyrant, one who is never willing to let Sophia forget who is in charge. As the ritual begins, Joseph makes it clear that every aspect of it must be followed to the most precise points as any deviation could have catastrophic consequences. There are no details spared in the explanation of the ritual and none spared in the depiction – Sophia is forced to go days without nutrition or toilet breaks, weeks spent in the same room staring at rocks or reciting passages and drinking glasses of Joseph's uncurdled BLOOD. The movie already set her up as icy and extremely headstrong and her attitude is at odds with the punishing effort required, but she fights through for the promise of talking with her son.
As the months pass and tempers hit breaking point, Sophia begins to doubt whether Joseph’s methods are actually working, but never doubt dark magic.
Irish newcomer Liam Gavin delivers a stark, dark and atmospheric movie that’s less horror and more character drama. With no desire (or need) to rush the story, A Dark Song is a slow burner and relies on audience imagination to fill in the unseen gaps and wonder what’s lurking in the darkness. To do this, he makes great use of the mansion setting – a large, imposing structure complete with narrow corridors, countless rooms and doors and a fittingly lived in appeal. There’s plenty to explore and plenty of shadowy areas to avoid. Largely set within the mansion with the two leads, the movie veers towards being a form of chamber piece, with only lingering shots of the surrounding countryside to break the locations.
The two leads deliver solid performances throughout. Catherine Walker is cold and seemingly empty inside as her unsurmountable desire for revenge pushes her further to the brink of sanity. She never breaks character throughout – bar one scene where she and Oram are permitted to laugh – and doesn’t enjoy having to bare her arse for Joseph’s pleasure. Steve Oram is deliciously wired in his performance, juddering from cordial to crazy in the blink of an eye and never really gives the impression he can be trusted – to be fair, neither give that impression.
The movie makes sure to be specific and thorough in its description of the ritual, it isn’t glossed over to be replaced by scenes of devil worshipping, each aspect is explained thoroughly and the consequences of insubordination are clearly defined. The subject here is the grubbier side of magic – you won’t find any wands, flying sticks or floppy haircuts here. The underlying subtext is the detailed machinations of what the magic is and how it works – and crucially, what lies behind science? What could we do with the knowledge that lies beyond comprehension? No detail is spared in ensuring the audience are aware of the intentions and procedure.
The journey, however, is ultimately more satisfying than the destination as the movie shifts a gear for its finale. It manages to avoid the pitfalls of many mystery-horror movies that require a frantic, bloody conclusion – but only just. As Sophia reaches her conclusion, the on-screen depictions and images are jarring, and one in particular did not hit the target which is a shame as it is the pivotal moment in the movie – it’s at odds with the tone of the movie and is frankly bloody strange (but very original). It will work for some, but not for others.
A Dark Song provides a great antidote to OTT horror movies crammed with jump scares and deafening musical cues, delivering a pensive, atmospheric journey demanding attention and imagination. Weird but accomplished.
August 29th 2017