A while ago, fellow MRC member Aaron Cronican recommended that I go and watch The Devil's Candy. If you read my review of that movie you'll recall that I was skeptical because Aaron has a tendency to like movies that we at MRC refer to as "artsy bullcrap." You'll also recall that I ended up enjoying that movie quite a bit. Well, a few days ago Aaron recommended another movie to me on Netflix called A Dark Song. Will the trend of Aaron actually suggesting good horror movies to me continue, or will this be artsy bullcrap? Strap in and find out and as usual, spoilers ahead.
A quick side note before we begin, I think I'm finally turning Aaron into a horror fan! Now all I need to do is get him to lighten up and accept slasher films as the mindless fun that they are. He does it with terrible action movies already so maybe there's hope...
2016's A Dark Song is the feature length directorial debut of writer/director Liam Gavin. Starring Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, A Dark Song is about a grieving mother (Walker) who pairs together with an occultist (Oram) to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant each of them what they want most. The first thing I took notice of was the high approval rating from both critics and audiences, at 92% and 60% respectively. The promise of yet another slow, methodical, psychological horror did pique my interest, so I fired it up and was on my way.
The first thing to take notice of is the cast. This entire movie hinges on the performances of the two leads because, aside from maybe a minute-long scene with another character, there are no other characters in the movie. Having your entire film dependent on the strength of just two people is a pretty risky move, but A Dark Song manages to pull it off most of the time in my opinion. The two actors play off each other well and aside from a few instances of dialogue that felt kind of off, they seemed like real people. The entire movie takes place in one house and I have to give major props to the cinematographer on this film. They did a good job of making sure we as the audience knew where we were at all times and framed each room of the house in such a way that made it feel unique to all the other rooms. Certain rooms always seemed to be filmed at the same angle most of the time so you always knew where you were in the house based on the angle of the shot which I thought was kind of cool.
So what about the story? As I mentioned earlier, the promise of this movie was a slow burning psychological horror movie, and largely that is what we get. The movie moves at a snail's pace to allow the two characters to interact with each other and develop the central relationship that the entire movie depends on. As far as psychological horror, though? We get it in bits and pieces, but the horror really doesn't start to ratchet up until an hour into an hour and a half long movie which is slightly problematic. Speaking of horror, what is it that we get in this movie? Well, there's the standard fare of doors creaking open on their own, shadowy figures walking quickly past a doorway, etc. but we are also treated to just a lot of background noises that serve to further the tension. Every now and then you'll hear just a dog barking in the distance, or some indistinct voices - things that are normally not scary at all - that in the context of A Dark Song don't fit in the environment and are immediately off-putting. Towards the end of the movie we finally get some actual horror in the form of the "demons" which just looks like a bunch of weirdos in body paint, but that's fine. They never make any noise and they look scary in the dark, and right when I think the movie is finally going to deliver on the horror I was promised it drops the ball. Allow me to explain.
As mentioned, the ritual our characters are performing is to grant their greatest wish by speaking to a guardian angel and asking it for a favor. During the course of the ritual, the occultist end up dying due to an accidental stab wound and things go south. The demons show up and it looks like A Dark Song is teeing us up for a dark ending, but then there's a blinding flash of light and the demons are gone. Our grieving mother walks through a door to find her guardian angel who grants her the wish of having "the power to forgive" her son's murderers. WHAT? Way to build up towards a fantastic ending and ruin it in the last five minutes, movie. Anyone who knows me knows I'm into downer endings like The Witch, Hereditary, and other slow-burn horror movies. The fact that she gets a happy ending didn't sit well with me, especially after all the time we spent watching things get progressively worse.
Overall, A Dark Song is about 95% of a great movie. The ending is such a swift right turn that it becomes so jarring it took me out of the movie almost completely, but that's just my opinion. Have you seen A Dark Song? What did you think of it? Leave me a comment down below and let's talk about it!