English horror.

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As I watched this movie, it occurred to me that we don’t see a ton of horror films out of Ireland/U.K. There are a few on the blog, but I would like to see more. A Dark Song roots itself in drama, and allows the bleak (yet still beautiful) countryside to set the mood almost immediately.

We follow Sophia (Catherina Walker) who had lost her song three years prior. She purchases a home to use as grounds for a complicated and months-long ritual. She hires Joseph (Steve Oram) to help her do the ritual properly.

The film focuses on the relationship between these two characters, and in the same vein as many other strong horror films, this one explores themes of death, trauma, loss, and love. The film is somewhat hard to describe as it is more of an experience than a standard narrative. A summary of the entire movie could be given in a few short sentences, but that does not mean there isn’t a lot going on.

The acting, directing, and music all work together quite well. The music feels off, and the slow drawl in the background amps up the tension. The bizarre actions of the ritual, the tense relationship between the two, and an overall bleak mood push this movie forward.

A Dark Song is significantly different from most horror films. Instead of bad writing and characters, we get to know each of these people. While they might not be the most likable duo, they are real. There is a genuineness between the two of them that will suck you into the story.

If there is a weak part of the film, it is the first act. Once the ritual process begins in earnest things become interesting and the story becomes intoxicating. The first ten to fifteen minutes feel too stiff, too abstract, and simply kind of boring. Not many movies can be perfect from start to finish, so don’t let this criticism detract you from viewing, but stick with it. I groaned a little at the start—oh boy, another set of bad characters—I was quite wrong here.

I like to always say what I think the best part of a good movie is, and here it is a bit of a tie. The performances of our two leads, and the journey they go on has incredibly powerful implications that are often not explored in horror. Further, the final act of the film is perhaps one of the best in horror I have seen this year. Sophia’s story is powerful, tragic, and in many ways frightening.

The other best part (why not two best parts?) is the environmental storytelling. The house decays in interesting ways, and becomes the third major character. The ritual symbols, candles, costumes, and so forth all add a dream like feeling to this movie.

This is not a standard horror movie. A Dark Song belongs in the new category of horror that is exploring the dramatic boundaries of the genre. This is director/writer Liam Gavin’s feature length debut—he is now certainly one to watch.

I don’t know how this excellent creeper slipped under my radar last year, but I highly suggest everyone give this one a watch. 8.5/10

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