• Dark Song, A



    Released by: Shout! Factory/IFC
    Released on: September 5th, 2017.
    Director: Liam Gavin
    Cast: Catherine Walker, Steve Oram, Susan Loughnane
    Year: 2016
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    The Movie:

    The feature length debut of writer/director Liam Gavin, A Dark Song opens with a woman named Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) renting a massive old home out in the Welsh countryside. She stresses to the agent handling the transaction that she needs her privacy. From there, we meet an occultist named Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram). He agrees to check out the house but at first, we don’t know why. He tours the place and rejects her offer, even when she offers him more money. He feels she’s not being honest with him. She had told him she wanted to hire his services because she wants to get in touch with someone she loved. He assumed it was a man, but she tells him it was her son.

    Reluctantly, Joseph agrees to help Sophia through a series of black magic rituals so that she can once again hear her child’s voice, but he makes it very clear that she has to do everything he says. This can and will take time, and as the rituals become darker and occasionally more subversive, Sophie’s patience with the domineering and downright unpleasant Solomon starts to wear.

    And we’ll leave it at that, because going into any more detail about the plot of this particular film would be a huge disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Going in knowing any more than just the basic setup of a picture like this seriously harms its impact.

    Having said that, A Dark Song is very well done. For a movie that basically revolves around two characters and one location, it’s fleshed out nicely. We don’t get a lot of background on Sophia – a quick conversation with her sister at the start of the film is really about it, aside from a few dribs and drabs that she offers up to Solomon in order to convince him to go through with all of this. We know even less about him, just that he’s an expert in this field and that he’s done this three times, it worked once. As the truth about Sophia’s situation comes to light, it has the potential to affect not just her relationship with Solomon but also the outcome of the ritual itself. It’s this aspect of the story, more than anything else really, that drives the plot and it’s seriously interesting to watch it unfold the way it does. The film rewards patience – it’s a definite slow burn, so don’t go into this one expecting loads of noisy jump scares or shocking gore.

    None of this would matter much if the performances weren’t up to par. Catherine Walker is very good as the female lead. We have sympathy for her, but not so much that it ever seems sappy or hamfisted. It’s interesting to watch her character evolve. Early on she’s almost submissive to Solomon because she wants what he can offer her, but as the plot develops, that changes. As such, Walker gets to play the role two ways and she’s very good at it. Likewise, Steve Oram makes for a fantastic bastard as Solomon. He’s not a kind or tender man, he is domineering and abrasive and uncouth. He abuses alcohol, seemingly treats women as objects and insists that while he live in the house with Sophia that she do all of the cooking and cleaning and that she sleep on the floor while he takes the only bed. At the same time, there’s more to the character than just a lot of yelling and gnashing of teeth. There are moments where the two indulge in the rituals demonstrated by the film that are, if not necessarily soft or erotic, at least calm and… human.

    Visuals are strong. Again, the vast majority of the movie takes place inside a dimly lit old house in the middle of nowhere, so it doesn’t make for the most colorful film ever made. The compositions are strong, however. The film’s use of CGI is also pretty solid, and where that’s typically a detriment to a movie like this, in this particular case it’s done with subtlety and it works quite well. Add to that a score from Ray Harman that’s heavy on atmospheric strings and unusual percussive movements and A Dark Song scores high marks all around. In a genre that is often content to rely on formula for success, this is a refreshingly original and smart take on what can be done within the confines of a fairly traditional horror narrative.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The AVC encoded 1080p transfer, framed at 2.40.1, looks good. Shot digitally, there’s obviously no print damage or grain to discuss. Fine detail is strong, you can see in the house where things look a bit dirty and dusty and you can make out plenty of detail in facial close ups. There are a few shots that have some minor banding or motion blur when characters movie really quickly in the dark but it happens very quickly and is over before you realize it. Aside from that, there’s nothing to complain about here. Colors are nicely reproduced and we get solid black levels and good shadow detail. There are no problems with compression artifacts.

    DTS-HD tracks are presented in the film’s native English in 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo options with removable subtitles available in English only. The 5.1 mix on the disc is really solid. There isn’t a lot of surround activity in the first two thirds of the movie, the surrounds are mainly used to spread out the score, but in the last third, pay attention to what’s happening in the back end of the mix, it’s pretty impressive. Levels are balanced properly, hiss and distortion are non-issues and dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow.

    Most of the supplements arrive in the form of some short interviews, the first running four minutes and featuring director Liam Gavin, who gives us a very quick rundown of his thoughts on the film. Lead actor Steve Oram and lead actress Catherine Walker speak for seven and nine minute respectively about the film and about horror pictures in generally, while director of photography Cathal Watters spends seven minutes in front of the camera talking about the look of the picture.

    Shout! Factory has also included ten minutes of deleted scenes, a fourteen minute slideshow that shows off some story boards, the movie’s theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Trailers for a few other Shout!/IFC horror properties play before the main menu screen loads. Included with the Blu-ray disc is a cardboard slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    A Dark Song is impressive – it’s a smart, character driven take on the perils of the occult, well-acted and beautifully shot. The Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory/IFC treats the film well, presenting it in very nice shape and with some solid extras as well. Definitely recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!