J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Dark Song: The Truth about Angels and Demons

Forget Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. Bells never ring when these Holy Guardian Angels get their wings, but they are very real and they really do accompany humans through life. However, demons are also very real—and they are easier to interact with through supernatural means. A grieving mother hopes to call her Guardian Angel to request a final conversation with her murdered son, but the risks are fantastically high in Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

If you know anything about Aleister Crowley and the occultist movement, you might be familiar with the Abramelin Ritual. Reportedly, Crowley started one, but left it unfinished, with disastrous consequences. According to esoterica, anyone who completes the long, grueling procedure will finally see their Holy Guardian Angel, who will them be compelled to grant whatever wish the supplicant asks for. Of course, whatever unseen demons might be in the area will do their best to disrupt the ritual and doom the practitioner, body and soul.

To complete the ritual, Sophia Howard will need a wingman. The alcoholic Joseph Solomon is not perfect, but he has extensive experience in the occult. He conducted a prior Abramelin Ritual. Though unsuccessful, he lived to tell the tale. Once the ritual starts, occult things start going bump in the night, but the situation really turns dire when Solomon begins to doubt her motives.

There is no need to mince words—A Dark Song is absolutely terrifying. You have to go back to the original Exorcist to find a horror film that is equally serious when addressing themes of good and evil. It is the kind of movie that feels like it is pulling back the curtain surrounding our materialistic existences, giving us a peak at the deeper, darker truth beyond.

Gavin’s execution is unremittingly tense and eerily evocative of occultist archetypes. He adroitly capitalizes on the claustrophobic location and sinister trappings. Once the circle of salt is circumscribed around the house, we can just feel bad things will happen inside. He also gets invaluable assists from Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, who are absolutely electric playing off each other.

This is one of the scariest films of the year. Yet, it is also a deeply moral film, again much like The Exorcist. In fact, it will not leave viewers bereft of hope, unlike so many nihilistic horror films. One of the best genre releases of the year, A Dark Song opens after midnight this Friday (4/28), at the IFC Center in New York.

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