The old horror cliche is that the one who invariably needs to be revenged is the monster, the killer. The one who has been wronged in some kind of moral sense, even if that occasions has to do some fuzzy math to get the equation right. Looking at something like Jigsaw, in the Saw franchise we see a master game player who invents ways to inflict his particular expertise on whoever has wronged his sense of justice. With those films we never get the physical, spiritual cost of revenge. Jigsaw weakens and enlists others on a crusade, but revenge is not a crusade. It’s a personal search for justice when the laws that govern societies no longer seem adequate or perhaps biblical enough. Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song is an interesting investigation of the costs of revenge. Sophia (Catherine Walker) enlists Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) to help reunite her with her deceased little boy. There is a fury about Sophia that is much more than just wanting her child back.
Sophia and Joseph rent a house in the country, preparing her spirit and body to do the complex rituals needed to speak with the dead. Sophia is doused with freezing water, made to bow in a circle for hours and forced to stay awake for days. Throughout the movie, we’re given horror in minor and major keys, but the intense focus of the film is not about things that go bump in the night or the dark arts perse. The film is about how the need to be revenged, shapes and changes a person. Sophia is changed fundamentally in mind and body. Her desire to exact the price of her own grief changes the world around her. Gothic literature gives us a precursor for how the physical structure of the castle or haunted house can come to symbolize the darker psychological structure of revenge and power.
The movie shows interior and exterior merging, how fate can be shaped and funneled by the a singular need to right a wrong. All things die because of Sophia’s mania, she’s tortured by dark creatures and even when she tries to leave the house, the vessel for her revenge, she cannot escape. Taken literally the movie can be read as just another occult genre picture, but read in another more figurative way it’s an exploration of one person’s need to create justice in a world that seems to have none. In the last few moments of the movie, Sophia escapes the demons torturing her and ventures up a staircase shining with aural light. Going through the door, she finally comes into contact with the means to exact her revenge, but at the last moment changes her mind. She asks instead to be able to forgive the people responsible for her child’s death. Sophia has sacrificed everything, her connections to the world, her own body and the body of Joseph to get to this place, but finds at the end of the film that what she was really trying to do was destroy the mania of revenge.
A Dark Song shows us how life is so much like music, the verses move us in certain irresistible ways. We come to expect what’s promised and sometimes feel as if the rhythm of a life should follow our own internal refrain. Life is a music we sometimes can’t hear, a secret melody that brings us to places we cannot conceive of until we’re actually there. A Dark Song gives us a deep character arc, one that stirs and changes the viewer, one that comes to us unexpectedly and like a refrain comes back to us once the movie’s over.
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