What would you do to have one last moment with the ones you love and have lost? What would you give up? Would you risk your life? Would you risk your soul? That’s the question at the heart of A Dark Song.
A Dark Song investigates a paranormal subject that has always interested me but I’ve never seen a movie tackle—just how dang hard it is to pull off a magical ritual. Forget what you’ve seen in the films, the ancient mystics made it more or less impossible to actually complete one of these things. The Grand Grimoire, written by Satan himself some say, contains a ritual that takes some six to eighteen months and involves privations that would make a masochist blush. If you ever wondered why more people aren’t walking around casting spells—other than the, you know, fact magic isn’t real—the difficulty involved is a place to start.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because that’s the bulk of A Dark Song. A women rents a house in the wilds of Wales so that she can lock herself inside with her mystical guide and embark on a quest to complete a magical rite–this one contained in the real grimoire The Book of Abramelin. It will take months, and during that time they will be stuck together. You can imagine how well that’s going to go. The ritual may or may not be working, but will they kill each other before we find out?
I very much enjoyed this movie, more so than I think most people would. (Hat tip to the names of our two main characters, Solomon and Sophia, both of which have esoteric significance.). It’s the definition of slow horror. Towards the end, it goes a little wacky in a Silent Hill kind of way, but that doesn’t take away too much from the rest of the film. I’ll give this movie Four Stars, well aware that many of you will find that rating inflated. But if you’ve ever wondered what this sort of ritual involves, this movie is for you.
There are few movies that have had more of a obvious impact on the horror genre than The Blair Witch Project. After its release, found footage became so prevalent as to be cliche, and there was a disco-level backlash against it in the years that followed. But it’s still around, and while big budget horror has gone back to a more traditional format, independent horror continues to rely heavily on the technique. So we come to 1st Summoning.
1st Summoning follows the Blair Witch setup all most too closely. Four amateur filmmakers strike off to a small town in the mountains of Arkansas to investigate a local legend. The story goes that an abandoned warehouse is the site of occult practices going back decades. But as they investigate, they discover that there may be more to the legend than they first believed, and that all of their immortal souls are in danger.
The Blair Witch comparisons are impossible to ignore in this movie. Whether it’s traipsing through the woods, discovering occult items that shouldn’t be there, or just filming when no one else would film, 1st Summoning hasn’t strayed far from the formula. But the movie also suffers from the comparison. The acting is not as good, and at times it’s downright bad. The sound is terrible. Often it’s impossible to make out what anyone is saying. Not that you always want to. The dialogue often feels false and forced. Whereas Blair Witch relied on spontaneous, natural dialogue to advance what was a bare-bones plot, 1st Summoning has a much more complicated story to tell. And in doing so, it overreaches.
Which is not to say that the movie has no redeeming qualities. It has some legitimately creepy moments. When one of our filmmakers investigates a church at night, the tension is real. Right up to the point where it takes it one step too far.
1st Summoning is not a bad movie if you’re looking for something to watch on a October evening. Just don’t expect too much you haven’t seen before, and seen done better.