The Link-Up Spell: Unveiling the secrets of A Dark Song

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Grab your Grimories and wands, fellow adventurers. Today we are crossing the Abramelin path with this review of the horror and drama film: A Dark Song.

Unlike many movies of its kind, A Dark Song is not a one tricky-pony. Rather than sinking the narrative with floods of fantastic moments, writer and director Liam Gavin dove into a rather unexplored territory. Starting with a very effective premise, the Irish filmmaker drifted towards the old practices of occultism to draw us into a perpetual hazy mystery. And, while it could be a lethargic experience for some, the journey crafted in this film is realistic at its best with its magical concessions.

We follow the story of Sophia (Catherine Walker) a grieving mother who is desperate to contact once more her deceased young son. Her last wild card is a man called Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), a supposed expert on occultism with a really miserable mood. After a pair of disagreements, Solomon decides to take the job and begins the preparation for a long, grueling ritual which will last one entire year inside a mansion.

Sophia and Solomon conduct a part of the Abramelin Operation in A Dark Song.

Beginning with the very first scenes together, the tension between both characters is greatly portrayed by the two actors. The protagonist’s stubbornness traps her inside an isolated house with Solomon conducting the occult practices as her personal director. Casting aside the protagonist’s desire, there is a realistic darkness inside her, a kinetic grief that never lets her go in the whole process, built from the unexpected tragedy. If Sophia’s character is impressive, Solomon is also captivating, thanks to his sardonic personality and the proven knowledge he has in his secret faith system. In fact, sympathies and disgust are directed toward these two at the same pace, thanks to the flawed, and real, nature expressed in dialogues and actions.

These lead performances go masterfully between the mundane encounters to the fascination of the scattered findings, and Gavin’s directing throws them inside the claustrophobic walls of a lonely Welsh mansion to squeeze out all those emotions, in parallel to the crawling bleak atmosphere of the script.

The protagonist of A Dark Song is Sophia, portrayed by Catherine Walker.

This reveals the truth behind A Dark Song. After peeling the layers of the visual languages of horror, you’ll find a tale of the acceptance of loss and death. At each step, the movie distances itself from pure suspense to condition the viewer toward the psychological damages of Sophia and Solomon. Motivations and understandings move by new discoveries, and the understanding they have of each other is always changing, just like their expectations of the magic they are practicing.

The result is a true manifestation of the power of the human psyche, constantly shaking the characters with frustration. However, in the end, awe conquers, faith conquers, love conquers and death conquers in the complete circle of life. All of this is exhaled through the magnificent script, honest acting and competent cinematography.

Magic: the third character in A Dark Song

Solomon in A Dark Song’s magical framework is inspired by The Book of Abramelin, a Kabbalistic grimoire written between XIV and XV century by a Jewish German magic scholar named Abraham Von Worms.

The long ritual described in the book, and later adopted in the film, was taught to Worms by the magician Abramelin in the lost city of Arachi, Egypt. The highly detailed system was decoded by the author, and he passed the knowledge to his son, Lamech, who compiled it as the “Operation Abramelin”.

Like it happens in the movie, the ritual must be done in one year. The preparations include a stark lifestyle, a daily prayer regime and the privations of all earthly pleasures for the safety of the practitioner. The goal of this hard exercise is to summon the “Holy Guardian Angel”, a personal spirit knot with the magician’s soul to gain occult knowledge and spells.

The “Abramelin Operation” is one of the key aspects of A Dark Song.

After the first encounter with the Holy Guardian Angel, the summoner must evoke the four Princes of Hell and the eight Sub-Princes to pact an Oath of Allegiance with them and bind them to supposedly cast out the negativity inherent in his or her humanity. The magician will also gain some familiar spirits that could be employed as spells with a set of magical word-square talismans that trigger their powers, which include invisibility, treasure finding, spiritual protection and flight.

The Kabbalistic nature of the Abramelin teachings gives the ritual a more benign edge. The author is rooted with the accountability of the Jewish God, and even differentiates the good from the bad spiritual beings that could appear throughout the “Operation”, but, also claims the result of it could change depending on the will of the magician. Finally, the Book of Abramelin was a direct inspiration for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Thelema system of Aleister Crowley.

In A Dark Song, the ritual is portrayed vividly and the repetitive nature of the intricate details of each prayer and location is described with absolute precision. Each room and space of the mansion is used by Solomon according to the old Grimoire, in order to produce inhospitality and an ominous feeling in each phase of the process of summoning Sophia’s Holy Guardian Angel. Natural elements and the hand drawn sigils are used to reinforce the significance of the rigor of the ritual and the religious aspect of it.

As a result, the representation of the Kabbalistic teachings of Abramelin is painfully methodical and puts every character’s movement into a suspenseful tightrope act. Practically, any mistake is a terrible loss for the practitioners, so the incomes of the occult practice set the mood and the plot pace, cutting the rational and emotional planes in two. Gavin’s work is always sincere towards the intriguing source, aided by Ray Harmon’s drone soundtrack, which goes wild when Solomon and Sophia lose control of the rites.

Fear in a pure state is a constant in the second half of the movie. The “Operation” is also a puzzle, which subsequently moves the plot, but the final result of unlocking doors is the opening of portals to someone or something unknown, whether our own reflections or other entities entirely. What lies behind our intentions and what life brings to us according to them must be one of the multiple questions behind A Dark Song. Deeply rooted in the white spectrum of occultism, the Abramelin ritual is just the device in which these characters express their scars, willing to obtain another reason to live, after all the darkness that accompanied them.

I think few movies have capitalized and understood the concept of magic as well as this title. Focusing on the humane aspect behind the occult experience, Gavin’s set a moody display of emotions and atmosphere that delightfully transmute a suspenseful beginning into a well-constructed character drama with cohesive strings towards the end. For the drama, for the horror or for the occultism remembrances, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.

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  • JWG

    Saw this as one of my October run of horror and dark fantasy films.

    It’s a good film but I kind of felt like the ending, while the only one that could have not seemed like an ass-pull, felt weirdly rushed and anticlimactic despite the grand theological implications it was supposed to depict.

    Granted any possible ending would have felt that way given the tone of the film, and audience expectations of film storytelling conventions wouldn’t have allowed a “non-ending” ending.

    I’m definitely overthinking that though.

    • Hey, man. Excuse me, I thought a while ago in writing this piece. I found the movie after watching The Void, thanks to your incredible review, so I wanted to link it but I forgot because I finally wrote this after a pair of blackouts.

      So, sorry, you influenced on this and I should have linked it!

      Back to your comment about the movie, I really understand why you felt like that. The plot transform in an unpredictable way, and it seems the writer had to revise the script a couple of times, maybe something was lost over there!

  • God

    Very good write up link! I have glossed over seeing this a couple of times and now I think is the time to finally watch it.

    Also, kabbalic texts seems like it would be a gold mine for some metal bands but I feel like you don’t see it a whole lot. Or maybe I just don’t see it when it’s right in front of me. Magic was always more of Satan’s forte.

    • Hey, man! Hope you can check it, I think you will enjoy it, too.

      Kabbalah is super enigmatic to me, but, besides Therion lyrics about the European systems of it I don’t know other band that uses concepts about it. I only see scattered names of songs or albums, but nothing more. I am always checking out some occult merol, anyways 😛

  • Depechemodeisgangsta

    It looks interesting and it does have a good RT reviews with 90% might be worth checking it out.
    Also another movie that i want to see is, The killing of a sacred deer, is from the director of The Lobster, which i enjoyed very much, last week i went to movies with my friends and i was outvoted and they chose Will Ferrell Step dad movie, which was ok since i had not expectations for it and haven’t even seen the 1st one.

    • Wooo, I mostly check IMDB and it didn’t had too much points there, I thought.

      I also want to see The Killing of a Sacred Deer!! Heard good things of the plot and the cinematography.

      Thanks for passing by today, too!

  • BigTasty

    I enjoyed this movie a lot, and felt the character interactions really kept the movie going. My main disappointment with it was how much they explained the ritual and the goals of the ritual before barely representing that explanation on screen. The crazy shit she started to experience towards the end felt pretty detached from the first half of the movie. But otherwise, I still walked away from the movie satisfied.

    • I felt like you sometimes, super satisfied about the acting and responses of each one on the different situations. You reminded me of JWG opinion about it, and I felt like that in that exact “crazy shit” time over the end, I also felt it “rushed”, like J said. But, overall I really liked the movie, so I pass that 😛 It is impressive they made this movie in 20 days and with such a low budget.

      • BigTasty

        I figured it was low budget, but that’s impressive!

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Excellent review Link! I am generally not that keen on horror films as fables of love, loss and acceptance, all too often I find them trite, seeking emotional outpouring and praise just because of their subjects, not actually doing enough legwork or even anything much interesting. I’m all for horror films grappling with serious subjects, but for me serious subjects require serious scrutiny. So I’m often disappointed. This though, sounds really unusual and interesting. I love methodical treatments of magic on screen and they don’t appear too often, older Hong Kong horror seeming to have the most notable. Shall seek it out, cheers!

    • If you find it, let me know your thoughts on it. Everyone have their own recollections of the movie, it is kinda varied on the plot treatment, so it is a cool movie to analyze from the narrative point of view. Check out BigTasty response, for example, he have some neat personal thoughts about it!

      Thanks for the kind words, dude!!!

  • interesting sounding movie, good sir! i’ll see if i can convince lady McNulty to watch it with me. i’m always on the look out for good horror films.

    since we are on that topic, have you seen The Innkeepers? i think the only common element may be the minimal amount of cast members, but it terrified me.

    • Óðinn

      Do you prefer Ubuntu or Mint?

      • GrumpDumpus
        • Óðinn

          Haha! Deep. Love it.

      • I’ve got Ubuntu on three PCs in the house. Simply because I’ve never tried another distro. Do you think I should venture out?

        • Óðinn

          I’m thinking about installing Ubuntu on one of my machines, but I know Mint is popular too. I’ll probably just go with Ubuntu. Just wanting to get different perspectives, see if anybody has pros and cons.

          • all i can say about Ubuntu is this: i’ve never thought to myself, “i wish this could do more”. it satisfied my every need in an operating system.

          • Óðinn

            That’s good to know. From what I’ve read Mint offers a more “Windows-like” interface, making for an arguably more user-friendly interface. But that’s not necessarily what I’m looking for. I want a new experience, but one that is open sourced, and is also specifically not Microsoft or Google-based.

          • GrumpDumpus

            UBUNTU IS THE MOST USER-FRIENDLY THING I HAVE WATCHED MY NEPHEW USE ON HIS GOSH-DARNED BLINKY BOX

    • I will tag The Innkeepers into the #LinkNotebookOfNeverendingRecommendations, then! 😀

  • Dubby Fresh

    IFC horror movies are often not good, but this has me interested.