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A Dark Song: A chamber (piece) of horrors

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- The debut feature by Ireland's Liam Gavin is a clever and engrossing psychological horror with shades of Ben Wheatley

A Dark Song: A chamber (piece) of horrors
Steve Oram in A Dark Song

The debut feature by Irish writer-director Liam Gavin is a confident and lean slice of psychological horror. Recalling some of the early works of British director Ben Wheatley (not just because it stars Sightseers [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ben Wheatley
film profile
]
star/co-writer Steve Oram), A Dark Song [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
makes clever use of a limited budget and plays with genre conventions to create something quite striking.

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Grief-stricken Sophia (Catherine Walker, a fine blend of desperation and steely determination) wants the chance to speak to her deceased child one more time. After she reaches out to occultist Solomon (Oram, whose brilliant line of brusque gruffness veers from the vulnerable to the disturbing), the duo embarks on a ritual to contact him. Locked away in a remote country house, the relationship between the two undergoes an ominous turn as – over a long period of time – danger starts to creep towards them.

Much of the film’s power comes from the chemistry between Solomon and Sophia. Angry, charged and with more than a hint of sexual sadism, their explorations on the nature of God, the destructive nature of grief and – in one of the film’s few lighter moments – dreams about mopeds provide many satisfying moments in this chamber piece. There is also a tangible air of dread cast over proceedings from the very first moments. When the more overt genre moments do occur, they are slightly predictable (such as jump cuts) but are still handled with a deft restraint as the film heads towards a conclusion that offers some sort of redemption amidst the darkness.

The Irish film, produced by Samson Films and Tall Man Films, with backing from the Irish Film Board and Ffilm Cymru Wales, premiered at Galway and has already had a good festival run. It secured a Gala screening at London, while – unsurprisingly – the genre circuit has proved receptive, with the movie already winning the New Visions Award at Sitges. With the film released in UK cinemas today (distributed by Kaleidoscope Film Releasing), it should continue to recruit many fans. It’s a strong debut from Gavin, who will be a talent to watch.

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