A Dark Song (2016)

A Dark Song

A while back I wrote about Take Shelter, a film which questioned its protagonist’s sanity in a meaningful way (the open-ended ending felt less like a cop-out and more like bold punctuation). The heroine of A Dark Song is in a similar sort of predicament: early on it’s revealed she has abandoned the medication and therapy prescribed to her in the wake of her son’s death. Some or all of what happens to her in the course of the movie could very well be the product of delusion. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying.

Whereas Michael Shannon’s character in Take Shelter was ostracized by his community for his (possible) mental illness, the main character of A Dark Song is barreling along the road to losing even more. Her name is Sophia and she will stop at nothing to speak to her dead son. Sophia’s internet research has led her to an occultist who claims he can help. Unfortunately, he looks less like a dark magician and more like a guy who listens to records backwards in his parents’ basement.

Sophia wipes out her savings to rent a secluded house in the Welsh countryside and pay Joseph’s hefty asking price. The ritual, he says, can take several months to complete, but at the end of it Sophia will get a chance to have her guardian angel grant any wish she desires. As Joseph draws a circle of salt around the perimeter of the home, he issues a dire warning: once the ritual starts, they can’t leave the house until their work is finished. Otherwise, they will suffer fates worse than hell itself.

Despite his authentic-looking grimoires and steadfast conviction, Joseph may be full of shit. And for a woman as vulnerable as Sophia, their pairing could be a deadly combination. She’s already demonstrated she’s willing to do whatever it takes, short of forgiving those responsible for her child’s death, and the abusive rites Joseph concocts are highly suspect from the get-go. By the time the rituals show any sign of working, you could just as well believe Sophia’s last trace of sanity has reached its breaking point.

I saw A Dark Song several months ago, which made me a little hesitant to write about it now, but it’s been fresh in my mind ever since, sometimes pestering me at night when I’m trying to sleep. I’ve seen a lot of movies in the months since, but few have been as memorable. Both of its actors are fantastic. Like The Head Hunter, which I wrote about last week, this movie makes the case that underfunded filmmakers should build their casts on quality as opposed to quantity.

Catch it while it’s still on Netflix.

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