Tag: steve oram

A Dark Song

A Dark Song (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Compile the usual images of black magic rituals often encountered in horror movies and throw them out the window. “A Dark Song,” written and directed by Liam Gavin, provides an alternative: a ritual that takes place over days, possibly weeks, but one that leaves the possibility that, despite the ritual having been performed, nothing has come out of it. Viewers expecting tried-and-true scares are likely to be disappointed, but those looking for magical realism will certainly find at least one admirable quality about the project.

The plot is seemingly straightforward initially but quickly gathers intrigue. Sophia (Catherine Walking) is a grieving mother who rents a mansion in rural Wales so she and an occultist, Joseph (Steve Oram), can perform a ritual. It is believed that if they were successful, each person would be granted a favor—any favor. Sophia wishes revenge upon those who murdered her seven-year-old son in a cult ritual. Joseph doubts her resolve.

I enjoyed that the picture does not follow a typical dramatic parabola—especially at the cost of entertainment. There are sections that are downright soporific because it adopts a molasses-like pacing in order to establish a certain tone and mood. But because the expected rhythm and beat is absent, it makes for an interesting experience because one feels the possibility that anything can happen in a story where, at first glance, nothing much happens at all. Not many projects dare to wear its skin without compromise.

Perhaps it is the point but I wished Walking and Oram had more chemistry. Not in a romantic kind of way, since that is not what the screenplay is going for, but in an overall rapport, especially when the two characters must clash, sometimes violently, and then share personal details because they are trapped in a situation they have created for themselves. However, I thought it was a fresh choice to cast performers who do not look like typical movie stars. Because they look like anybody who can be seen in a public place, it contributes to the believability of the film.

There are instances of creepiness or uneasiness but never any jump scare or standard way to alarm the viewer. However, it proves plenty of opportunities to doubt. Given that Sophia is secretive with what she hopes to accomplish, is she a reliable protagonist? Is Joseph a fraud, truly only in it for the eighty thousand pounds? Is something really happening in that house or are the strange coincidences products of their imagination? After all, the ritual involves grueling trials like abstaining from food for days, not leaving a marked area for hours, and not having enough sleep.

“A Dark Song” is not the kind of picture where one walks away not thinking about anything. And for that, it might be worth seeing at least once even if at times it is an experience to be endured. So many mainstream horror flicks exist simply to waste time and money. At least with this film, one can tell it is made with love and effort. I recommend it most to adventurous audiences.


Sightseers (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Tina (Alice Lowe) and her boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), are on their way out for a one-week road trip across England, but Carol (Eileen Davies), Tina’s mother, is not very happy about it. Carol worries her daughter does not know Chris well enough for them to spend time alone for such an extended period of time. Plus, Carol is convinced Chris is a murderer—even though he insists a prior incident was all a terrible accident.

“Sightseers,” directed by Ben Wheatley, has got the case of trying too hard to be a dark comedy. It possesses neither the edge nor the danger to pass as one. Halfway through, I found myself feeling bored and frustrated that it fails to move beyond a series of sketches where the set-up involves the couple crossing paths with strangers and the payoff is that bad things begin to happen. Though the sub-genre is unexplored for the most part, the film does not seem to have any sort of inspiration to make the experience of watching it enjoyable.

Lowe and Oram’s talents fit a more comedic niche. They pull off a few one-liners because they are not afraid to contort their faces to the point of silliness or not move them to make an impression that their characters are not the sharpest tools in the shed. I liked them as performers but the screenplay—written by them with additional material from Amy Jump—is not pointed enough as a satire of toxic relationships. The punchline is always someone getting hurt physically and it gets dull fast.

Tina and Chris are boring apart. Perhaps that is the point—some people, unfortunately, are convinced that they are not bright enough to captivate another person, let alone an entire room, or that they do not have anything special to offer. But it is no excuse for the characters to be boring together. Their sex life is supposed to be wonderful but we do not feel it. They are supposed to have a lot of things in common but we do not see them. Neither of them seem to have interior lives. So, aside from their sudden shifts in behavior, what makes them interesting?

The funny thing about dark comedies is that the filmmakers must understand how human psychology works. When they do not, it shows—and it is insulting. The film then becomes an exercise of hassling us for laughs instead of really earning them. In a way, the best dark comedies are also educational in that they give us insight into what may not necessarily be obvious to the viewer.

I tried not to reveal the so-called twist even though I am convinced it is not all that surprising. “Sightseers” is a toothless black comedy that consists of violent trivialities. Even the bloody affairs are executed with flatness and lifelessness.