A Dark Song is an Irish-British movie that follows some conventions of the horror genre, while also being something truly unique. Written and directed by Liam Gavin and starring Catherine Walker and Steve Oram, A Dark Song can be explained by understanding the religious and occult underpinnings that liken it to such horror movies as The Exorcist and Midsommar, while also appreciating something the others do not explore in any significant way: gnosticism.
Beware, spoilers are below, as we jump into trying to understand and explain A Dark Song for those who want to know… what did I just watch?
A Dark Song: An Explanation and Analysis
The plot of A Dark Song is as such: Sophia Howard rents a house in an isolated Wales locale, with the intention to undergo an intense 18-month ritual. She hires occultist Joseph Solomon to lead her through the brutal procedures dictated in the ritual.
The ritual is from The Book of Abramelin, which is a story of an Egyptian mage named Abra-Melin who taught a system of magic to Abraham of Worms circa the 15th Century. It is a real ritual that is said to have been conducted by Aleister Crowley. What is supposed to come to pass is that an angel (or demon or spirit, depending on your translation) called an agathodaimon will appear and grant a favor. Sophia says the goal in conducting this ritual and summoning the agathodaimon is to talk to her dead 7-year-old son.
What is important is to note what Joseph says early in A Dark Song. He asks if Sophia is Catholic or Protestant (she is Catholic) and corrects her when she thinks the ritual is from the Kabbalah. He says it is a gnostic ritual. That comes into play significantly when trying to explain the events of the movie.
After some convincing that she is prepared for the ritual, Sophia sees Joseph pour salt around the house and instruct her that they will remain there until it is complete. What follows is months of torment and ritualistic practices. At times Sophia questions Joseph and his intentions, and at other times Joseph questions Sophia and whether she is keeping something from him. She ultimately confesses that what she is asking this angel for is revenge. She wants revenge for whoever kidnapped and killed her son.
Throughout A Dark Song Sophia is tested in different ways as the ritual drags on. And Joseph shifts back and forth between a sympathetic character and one who seemingly can’t be trusted. There is a particularly intense scene in which Joseph seemingly kills her, only to revive her as a “re-birthing” ritual. Here you can watch the writer/director Liam Gavin discuss what happens in the movie.
The last 20 minutes of the movie is something that can be debated and interpreted different ways. Of course it can be expected that there would be some kind of climax and catharsis for Sophia. So let’s get into it.
The Ending Explained
After a struggle between the two, Joseph is accidentally stabbed and eventually dies. Before he passes, he takes it as a sign that the ritual is working.
It seems hopeless, as the notebooks Joseph was reading from have been marked up so that she cannot read them and potentially finish the ritual. She tries to leave the house, only to find that she miraculously returns to the house. As if she can’t leave. And when she does return, there are creatures there. Demons. They drag her to the basement and begin inflicting pain.
But then they are driven away. And finally, she sees it. Apparently, an angel. A giant angel appears in front of her, wearing armor and glowing in a beautiful light.
What Is the Angel and What Does He Say?
It is her agathodaimon. It is known in the Abramelin Operation as a Holy Guardian Angel (or HGA). Although it can be called an angel, in explaining A Dark Song it can also be described as a metaphor for your inner self. A voice that only you can hear. Because it is HER angel, her voice, we don’t know what he says because she is the only person who can hear it.
To understand it better, I return to the beginning when Joseph said that the ritual was from gnosticism.
Gnosticism began in the early stages of Christianity itself, a collection of ideas that deviated from Christian and Jewish thought. You see, in the beginning Sophia specifically said that she didn’t care if what she was doing was RIGHT or WRONG. She just wanted the truth, and in her case, revenge to the killers that she did not know. Christian faith generally emphasizes sin and repentance, while gnosticism emphasizes truth versus illusion. Enlightenment. And so while in the beginning of the movie she only wanted revenge for sinners, it is enlightenment that she found.
A Christian angel might come down and enact revenge for sinners. She described herself as Catholic in the beginning, and so that is what she thought she wanted. But this gnostic ritual brought her to a particular enlightenment in which she asked for the will to forgive, not to get revenge for the death of her son.
To fully understand A Dark Song, I think it is important to delve into gnosticism in a deep way. The movie explores the ideas found in that ancient philosophy more than any modern horror movie has ever done.
Last Updated on March 27, 2022.