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New Review: The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015/2016/2017)
Director: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Greg Ellwand, James Remar, Lauren Holly, Peter J. Gray
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February) is one of the most nerve-shattering horror films that I’ve seen in many a moon. More than The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook, and The Conjuring, the movie creates such an unshakably fearsome atmosphere of dread from start to finish that I felt intensely uncomfortable while watching it. Genre fans certainly have reason to rejoice with this one, especially fans of slow-burn horror, but be forewarned: The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not an easy film to watch. At all. It’s an extremely effective thriller, but it’s not one that I think I could sit through for a second time.
The movie is directed by Osgood Perkins, son of the late great actor Anthony Perkins, and tells two separate stories (broken up in three chapters titled “Rose,” “Joan,” and “Kat”) which the trailers reveal just a little too much of, and which would be best left for audiences who know nothing about the movie to discover on their own (I’ll try to be as discreet as possible).
The first story follows two girls at a Catholic boarding school – the introverted Katherine (Kiernan Shipka of TV’s Mad Men) and popular girl Rose (Lucy Boynton) – who are left behind at the school over winter break when their parents don’t show to pick them up. Rose has deliberately told her parents that break doesn’t start until later in the week so she can work things out with the boy (Peter J. Gray) who may have gotten her pregnant. Katherine, meanwhile, believes that her parents are dead after suffering from a horrific dream which opens the movie.
In the second story, a former mental hospital patient named Joan (Emma Roberts) hitches a ride from an older couple – James Remar’s Bill and Lauren Holly’s Linda – who are on their way to Bradford for reasons that are best left unsaid here (it has something to do with a bouquet of flowers in the back seat of their car). Bill seems to grow quite fond of Joan, while Linda is upset that he decided to pick her up, which she reveals in a flawlessly acted and written monologue halfway through the film.
Neither story sounds like horror movie material, but once Katherine is convinced that her parents are not coming back again, she finds solace in a figure at the school who becomes a surrogate father to her. It isn’t the school’s kind priest Father Brian (Greg Ellwand), who leaves for Albany during the week Katherine does a musical performance at school. It’s someone else. Someone Katherine is all too willing to accept as a father figure, and by doing so, she becomes a danger to everyone in the school.
The two stories eventually come together in the film’s gruesome finale, although to say how (and to reveal any more about the plot) would be unfair. The movie should not be discussed in great detail, except with those who have already seen it.
What will be discussed instead is how Perkins works closely with cinematographer Julie Kirkwood (who gives the movie an exquisitely creepy sheen) and composer Elvis Perkins (Osgood’ brother, and who contributes with a discordantly creepy score). For the first two-thirds of the film, much of the horror is merely suggested, and yet Perkins manages to instill a sense of fear and danger over nearly every shot. Just look at the scene in a motel room, where Bill and Joan sit down and talk while Joan is wearing nothing but a towel. Just look at the scene where Rose tries being friendly with Katherine after finding her in the school’s furnace room. Nothing really happens in these scenes (characters just talk), and yet, they’re both fraught with menace and hint at the horror that’s sure to come.
And it does come. Boy, does it ever. There are some things which you just can’t un-see as soon as you do see them, and the film’s gory climax is filled with moments like that, especially when a shotgun carrying police officer makes his way down to the school’s furnace room and finds something quite shocking down there. Equally haunting is the final scene between Kat and Rose, and once you see the film, you’ll understand why (I really can't say any more about the scene than that).
The movie is carried by three superb performances by a trio of talented actresses. Emma Roberts has never impressed me the way that she has here, and the scene where she lets out a small chuckle in the bathroom of a diner makes my blood chill just thinking about it. Lucy Boynton manages to make her “mean girl” Rose into a surprisingly sympathetic and complex figure, yet the film’s most challenging role is played by Kiernan Shipka, and the young lady pulls it off beautifully.
Now, here comes the somewhat tricky part: Assigning the movie a grade. I genuinely and sincerely did not like the feeling this movie left me with, and I have gone off on movies for their negativity and ugliness (like Snow White and the Huntsman and 2014’s Sabotage). The Blackcoat's Daughter is all too good at leaving you with negative feelings, yet given the kind of movie this is, it could be argued that that's kind of the point. This is not a feel good film. It’s a movie that tries to make you feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible, and it’s certainly flawless in it goals.
I mentioned at the start of this review that I would never watch this movie a second time. That’s not because the movie does anything wrong (it really doesn’t), but rather because I don’t need to see it again. I’m not going to forget the characters, the stories, the way the movie deals with the issue of grief (again, I can't say how it does without spoiling something), and the disturbing and haunting final shot for as long as I live. There’s just no way that I can. That’s the sort of power The Blackcoat’s Daughter has. What you have to decide is whether you want a film like this to be with you for so long.
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)
Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, brief strong language
What did you think of this movie? :D
Other thoughts on The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015/2016/2017)! :D
- FEBRUARY Review: A Brooding Horror Masterpiece
The chilling performances of Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka catapult Osgood Perkins' FEBRUARY into masterpiece status.
- The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015)
- Film Freak Central - Fantastic Fest '15: February
****/**** starring Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, James Remar written and directed by Oz Perkins by Walter Chaw Osgood Perkins's hyphenate debut February is haunted. It plays like a boarding-school version of Rob Zombie's extraordinary L
- 2015 TIFF Update #5 - Reviews by David Nusair