Fantastic Fest Review: A DARK SONG (Liam Gavin, 2016)
Of the ties that bind, none may be more potent than a mother’s love: elemental, eternally bound, and near-feral when challenged. Perhaps that’s why the death of a child is a horror unto itself; an unimaginable tragedy that visits scars so deep and inerasable as cannot be imagined, much less dealt with, without an inhuman amount of strength and will.
Sophia (Catherine Walker) knows this agony firsthand, and neither her family’s platitudes nor promises of divine comfort are near enough to salve her broken heart. Enter Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a sketchy occultist-for-hire who promises a more direct route to heal the void behind her unspeakable loss- if she has the courage and fortitude to withstand the cost.
The cost, as Writer-Director Liam Gavin’s A DARK SONG chronicles, is steep indeed. Holed up in the Welsh countryside for a predicted but uncertain six-week retreat of preparation and grueling, body-and-soul-testing training is just a prelude to the actual black magic that will bring Sophia the closure she seeks. And he’s not kidding around: a salt circle enclosing the spooky, abandoned country estate that stands as their home until the task is completed represents a spiritual barrier designed to keep them safe from the forces they’re wrangling, lest they get free or worse, trap the two in limbo forever. There is no leaving, no turning back, no changes of mind. There is only completion of the ritual, no matter how long it takes.
You’d think trust would be paramount in this sort of soul-risking situation, requiring a bit more vetting of the client’s motivations and the shaman’s success record. But in visceral matters of the heart, simple logic could fall into a grieving blind-spot, or evade the vetting of a payday-hungry practitioner, but hindsight is useless once the spiritual gateway is opened. The two are in it together now, forcing a long and extremely dark road to uncover answers and gain satisfaction- if they manage to complete the cycle and make it out alive and untouched.
A DARK SONG is a terrifying, innovative, and extremely welcome Indie entry into the horror genre. With emotions as raw and bloodied as the entities called upon to provide deliverance, the film is a grueling, exhausting, creeping terror of banal, repetitive study married to an infinite realm beyond understanding- a pulling back of the veil both horrific, gorgeous, and completely believable. It’s a film that shows us the wages of bereavement, and the hell of a heart in mourning in contrast to the potential torment and redemption that lies beyond this mortal realm.