A Dark Song (4 stars)

A Dark Song

Steve Oram and Catherine Walker commune with the dark side in Liam Gavin's arresting debut

Offering a fresh twist on the 'old dark house' horror, Liam Gavin's debut foregrounds character as we watch a grieving mother engage a bad-tempered occultist to enact a gruelling ritual in a form of sadistic therapy. Its tendency to withhold the 'goods' may infuriate genre purists, but audience patience will be rewarded with a two-hander of discomforting complexity.

Sightseers' Steve Oram plays Joseph, the shabby necromancer in question, a man without an ounce of mystique. Neither his trainspotter's appearance nor his track record inspires confidence and he comes with the bonus baggage of an alcohol problem. In short, he's not the kind of man you want to be locked away with for months on end. But that's exactly what Sophia (Catherine Walker) signs up for when she hires a mansion in rural Wales and forks out a shedload of cash for the privilege of dallying with the dark side.

The property's imposing frontage gives way to interiors that seem to subtly stretch beyond their real dimensions, suggestive of a world beyond what we see. Yet the visuals are far from gloomy and the deliberate rejection of this most basic of genre conventions is one of the many elements that leaves you wondering whether events will ever evolve from psychological warfare into full-blown horror show.

The dynamic that emerges is disconcertingly exploitative; Walker turns in a performance of immaculate restraint playing a woman blinkered by loss, who has put all her trust in an incompetent or duplicitous stranger, and whose furious determination can't disguise her terrifying vulnerability. But, if Joseph is not above abusing his position, there is deceit on both sides, with the tables turning more than once as relations swing from strained to hostile.

Positioning itself firmly at the arthouse end of horror, A Dark Song is a credible exploration of a desperately dysfunctional relationship. When it does conform, it's to offer Hellraiser-type nightmarish imagery and The Orphanage-style chills, rather than the crude jump scares favoured by Insidious and its ilk. A duff effect during a key climactic moment strikes a rare bum note in this otherwise ambitious, intimate and deeply unnerving addition to the supernatural horror canon.

Selected release from Fri 7 Apr.

A Dark Song

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Ireland
  • 1h 40min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Liam Gavin
  • Written by: Liam Gavin
  • Cast: Mark Huberman, Susan Loughnane, Steve Oram

A grieving mother (Catherine Walker) contacts a bad-tempered occultist (Steve Oram) to help her perform an ancient ritual in a rural mansion in Wales in the hope that she can contact her recently deceased child. An ambitious, intimate and deeply unnerving addition to the supernatural horror canon that's based on the…

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