In Writer/Director Oz (Osgood) Perkins latest film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Formerly “February“), two girls are waiting for their parents to pick them up from the private school they attend on their Winter break. But neither Katherine’s (Kiernan Shipka) or Rose’s (Lucy Boynton) parents show up, so they’re both left at the school alone for the week. At the same time, a hitchhiker named Joan (Emma Roberts) is picked up by by a man named Bill (James Remar) and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly). Exactly where Joan is going is discussed briefly, but it’s evident that she has more than a few issues, and despite Bill’s repeated efforts to explain to her that he’s just a nice guy trying to help her out, she remains tense and guarded in the car. Meanwhile, there seems to be a problem with Katherine at the school. She’s displaying some very odd behavior, and the reason she’s acting strangely might be because she’s being influenced by some sort of demonic presence.
Obviously, there’s a lot more going on here than I just described. But part of the fun here lies with the viewer trying to figure out where all of this is headed. In his directorial debut, Perkins has crafted one of those slow burn types of film, that will either fascinate or infuriate audiences. The Blackcoat’s Daughter has the atmosphere of a David Lynch film, with long, quiet takes featuring characters staring off into space, or discussing things between themselves in hushed tones. The film feels a lot like a foreign satanic possession flick from the 70’s for a lot of its running time, but it doesn’t feature any ersatz effects of teenagers spewing green bile, and spinning their heads around. Instead, it opts for a dark tension that slowly grows more and more absolute as the film creeps slowly along. But Perkins wants you to think something regarding satanic possession is going on, why else would he name the school Bramford (Think about that one for a second or two…)? Since the film plays out in a quiet, non chronological manner, you might think that the story never really comes together in a fully cohesive manner, but it sort of ties itself together in the end. Sort of.
Since The Blackcoat’s Daughter is such a slow film, it needs to have actors that can grab an audience by the throat and fully inhabit their roles. Luckily, everyone here understands what Perkins was going for, and the film is so much the better for it. In all honestly, the only faces here I was familiar with were Remar’s and Holly’s, and they both deliver winning, nuanced performances. Remar recites all of his lines in what I can only describe as “Loud whispering“, which makes everything he says sound threatening even though all he does is reassure Joan about his intentions throughout the film. After some quick research, I discovered that Shipka is well known for her role on AMC’s Mad Men (I’ve never seen a single episode of it. So sue me), and she’s especially good here. Her eyes are quite expressive, and she really imbues Katherine with a sense of loneliness (or maybe insanity), that makes her someone you instinctively know you need to keep a close eye on throughout the film – she’s genuinely eerie. As Rose, Boynton gives an even keeled performance that belies the turbulence that lies seething underneath Rose’s skin. There’s a twist midway through the film involving Rose, Joan & Bill that’ll throw you for a loop, one that adds to the whole David Lynch vibe I described earlier.
As The Blackcoat’s Daughter moves forward, there are scenes with Katherine speaking with what looks to be a large hairy & horned creature that looks awfully satanic, but it’s seen only in silhouette form. These film echo similar scenes between Thomasin and Black Philip in this year’s “The Witch”, and they’re just as creepy as well. But Perkins’s script never fully answers whether Katherine is possessed or not, nor does it give much of an explanation as to the fates of Bill, Linda and Joan. But he does give the audience a lot to think about in regards to how it all ends. The film’s mood is supported by some stellar cinematography by Julie Kirkwood, that keeps the film draped in depressing and creepy shades of grey. Elvis Perkins’ music is also instrumental in keeping the tone of the film dark and foreboding. Oddly enough, there are some extended sections of the film in which there isn’t any music at all, but I sorta felt like there was. As if I could hear it playing along with the film inside my mind. Either way, it all works rather nicely.
All in all, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is another one of those very polarizing films that audiences will either love without reservation, or hate with seething passion. As I said earlier, the ending offers partial explanations for the separate story lines, but it leaves a lot for the audience to suss out on their own. Personally, I liked the vibe of the film, and while it isn’t the least bit frightening (Nowadays, what is?), its mood did keep me in a guarded state. I guess I was waiting for that one big scare that never really came, yet I was fascinated by the goings on here regardless. There’s a lot to be said for the power of silence, especially in a film, and this one uses that power marvelously. Osgood Perkins is the son of the one & only Anthony Perkins, and this film is one that Norman Bates would feel right at home with. See it if you’re in the mood for a meditative, moody horror film that’s equal parts eerie and frustrating. I liked it enough, but I suspect that I’m gonna forever be in the minority in that regard.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (3 / 5)