The Shadows Teem With Promising Terror in Liam Gavin’s Unnerving “A Dark Song”


Writer-director Liam Gavin’s disquieting thriller pits a bereaved mother (Catherine Walker) and her bearded ginger occult adviser (Steve Oram) against the demons and angels they’ve summoned in a ramblingly creepy house in the Welsh countryside. “Ramblingly creepy” fits the film, too, which finds our spiritual meddlers first preparing for the hard work of contact with realms infernal and divine (they expect to be locked in the home for some six months, at least) and then going slowly mad as they tend to their chalk-dust protection circles, their summoning rituals, their own uneasy relationship, and the marvelously suggestive darkness around them. For much of the film, Gavin and cinematographer Cathal Watters find their horror where our eyes can only just see it, where candlelight edges up against shadowed forms. One tense but leisurely sequence seems to find some creature of the dark enjoying a smoke in an armchair. Or maybe it’s all in our lead’s head. Much of the drama lies in hoping that the suggestions don’t resolve themselves into beasts.

As in any two-hander, A Dark Song is structured around the seesawing of power between the leads. At first the occultist is abusive of the desperate woman who has hired him to consort with the spirits, but then he uses her fear — and her willingness to oblige his every off instruction — to strip her down and get himself off. The scene is leering, cheap, and obvious in ways the rest of this tale isn’t. The final reels reveal the specters and that mother’s private goals; neither is as singular as what the long, effective buildup promises. Still, the performances are strong and the scenecraft absorbing.

A Dark Song

Written and directed by Liam Gavin

IFC Midnight

Opens April 28, IFC Center