In the usual horror movie, a monster stalks its victims. Will it get them? When will it get them? How will it get them? What even is it? A Dark Song is the inverse of this forumula. The lugubrious soundtrack that would normally promise Something is coming instead promises Something is being steadily approached.
The two lead actors provide a solid foundation for the slow burn and creepy build-up. Catherine Walker and Steve Oram contrive a fascinating mentor/student relationship. I’ve seen Walker before in this piece of Syfy tripe about people who get teleported into another dimension full of cheap CG dinosaurs (don’t hold this TV trash against its director, who has made some very good movies like this, this, and this). For her character arc in A Dark Song, she steels herself admirably, balancing vulnerability and resolve. “I don’t need you to be virtuous,” Oram bellows at her when she apologies for something, “I need you to be driven.” The occult is hard work. Lots of reading books by candlelight, meditating in chalk circles, blood rituals, all that sort of thing. Walker convincingly plays someone driven to do the hard work.
Oram is unlikely but entirely compelling as a wizard-for-hire. For those of us who’ve seen Sightseers, he cuts as odd a figure as ever. His ginger beard and balding pate, his lazy Midlands drawl, his withering glare and abusive outbursts, his idle pontificating. “Science describes the least of things,” he says, sounding a little bored having to explain something so obvious, “The least of what something is.” Is he a charlatan? And is that really what he’s going to wear?
I’m always eager to see how an indie movie grapples with that moment of truth when the veil is torn away and it’s time for a special effects budget. Stepping into hell isn’t cheap (the pretty decent The Void crowdsourced this specific part of its production). First-timer Liam Gavin’s script makes some unique demands on the production, and when it came time to direct his own screenplay, he brought some unique, well, approaches. The creaks and shadows of a big empty house can only get you so far. I can imagine some horror fans coming away bewildered at best, disappointed at worst. But where I feel most horror movies fall apart, A Dark Song really comes together.
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