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Grief Battles Faith in the Resoundingly Creepy A DARK SONG (Review)

Grief Battles Faith in the Resoundingly Creepy A DARK SONG (Review)

A dismissive or simplistic review of A Dark Song could capably describe the film like this: It’s about two unpleasant strangers who spend a year in the same creepy, isolated mansion. And even with that cursory description, the movie sounds more than a little intriguing! Fortunately, the fascinating new Irish import known as A Dark Song is a hell of a lot more than one provocatively straightforward hook of a premise. Indeed it is about two unpleasant strangers who spend a year in the same creepy, isolated mansion — but that’s just the surface premise. What’s going on just beneath is what makes A Dark Song so quietly compelling and frankly fascinating.

Sophia (Catherine Howard, of Dark Touch, another damn good Irish thriller) is a brittle, mourning woman who is desperate to share one final moment with her deceased child–and she’ll do seemingly anything to achieve this ominous goal. Joseph (Steve Oram, of Ben Wheatley’s darkly funny Sightseers) is a contentious, prickly man who claims to be a serious expert on various occult-related rites and rituals–and he’s about to put Sophia through an entire year of struggle, study, and misery.

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The plot is as refreshingly simple as it is unexpectedly compelling; even without the the trappings of an occult thriller these would still be a pair of characters fascinating enough to spend 97 minutes with. And that’s how writer/director Liam Gavin pulls his viewer in: at first it’s just the curiosity value. Two complete strangers cutting themselves off from the world inside of a dilapidated mansion? That’s already a movie I want to see. But once A Dark Song starts delving into issues like love, loss, faith, and the natural human reaction to sudden tragedy, that’s when it blossoms from a novel concept to a truly powerful piece of genre filmmaking.

Mr. Gavin’s quietly fascinating premise–combined with some stellar music, production design, and cinematography–provides all you need for an effective thriller about the power/danger of blind faith, but A Dark Song is also backed by a pair of simply fantastic lead performances. The relationship between Sophia and Joseph is often tense or difficult, and both actors achieve a remarkable balancing act. Both characters need to be both plainly flawed yet also sympathetic for the movie to work, and everyone involved pulls it off in highly impressive fashion. In some ways A Dark Song feels like a particularly personal two-character stage play, only with the added bonus of a resoundingly creepy location and some top-notch audio-visual atmosphere.

Much of A Dark Song is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. By the midway point we’re well aware that something truly momentous and mysterious is about to happen; we just don’t know if it will be sublime or horrific… or both. This masterfully constructed religious thriller closes in an audacious and truly fascinating fashion–but you won’t be able to appreciate the impact unless you’ve come to care about the characters.

Suffice to say that I truly did.

4.5 ambiguously appealing burritos out of 5 

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Images: IFC Midnight

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