A24 / ABMO FILMS (2017)
Director: Oz Perkins
Starring: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Lauren Holly, James Remar
Not just a drunken cry after downing a bar-full of shots. The minions of Lucifer himself are alive and well in the town of Bramston and like to frequent all-girls Catholic boarding schools.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a.k.a. February, is a slow-burner that attempts to twist and turn with a non-linear narrative following the stories of three teens on desperate stories, all of which are connected to Bramston.
It’s also a bit...hmm.
It’s a cold February in the town of Bramston, and a week’s break from boarding school has arrived. Kat (Shipka) awakens from a dream of her parents smashed up car and quietly crosses another day off of her calendar in anticipation of them arriving to collect her. Another student, Rose (Boynton), has given her parents the wrong date to collect her in order to break the news to her boyfriend that she is potentially pregnant. The headmaster, Mr. Gordon (Peter James Haworth), leaves the girls in the care of the onsite nuns and departs for the week. Kat seems despondent that she hasn’t heard from her parents, though the nuns assure her everything will be fine. Elsewhere, ex-psych ward inpatient Joan (Roberts) is stranded at a bus station until she is offered a ride by caring Bill (Remar). He agrees to take her to Bramston, for reasons she never explains. His wife, Linda (Holly), is unsubtly against this. As they make their way to Bramston, Bill tells Joan that she reminds her of his deceased daughter. During the evening, Joan experiences various flashbacks to her troubled youth.
Returning from a tough meeting with her boyfriend, Rose is silently beckoned into the boiler room, where she sees the bizarre sight of Kat prostrating in front of the roaring furnace. Suffice to say, she’s freaked out. That’s just the start of Kat’s strange behaviour as an invisible malevolence takes hold of her and instructs her to do…bad things as the stories all begin to intertwine.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is, simply put, an art-house flick that will be gleefully accepted by all in the higher echelons of those circles, but the lush visuals and tone cannot make up for a thin story. This is a story that deserved a deeper dive into the psyche of a disturbed teen that represented a perfect conduit for evil, and unfortunately, like many of the ideas posed, only the surface was skimmed. Aesthetically, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is similar to Let the Right One In but isn't near the levels set by that movie.
One of the key issues is that the three lead characters are all too-similar – cold and monotone. There’s nothing that really stands out about them individually – Boynton’s hair colour aside. The only separation really being Kat is the childlike freshman and Rose the pretty, outgoing student. That they would then interact in the same way is odd. The performances, however, are all very good – Shipka and Boynton especially deliver strong performances. Shipka is afforded the movies better scenes and does a good job of delivering an unsettling, slightly chaotic victim of evil.
The problematic writing, unfortunately, ensures the movies ‘twist’ becomes apparent halfway through, but even with that knowledge the editing and narrative is still a jumbled mess. Non-linear and a risk, yes, but it still isn’t perfectly executed. The Blackcoat’s Daughter could really be set anywhere, the fact that it is a Catholic boarding school doesn’t lend itself entirely to the story other than that fact that it’s…big. Sprawling. Isolated. Of course, there are themes that link itself to the school but, like other elements of the story, it could have been utilised and explored in a greater way. Dialogue is so-so, a lot of the movie consists of slow zooms to the characters confused and worried faces, taking the place of moments where dialogue would better suit the moment.
There are some great moments scattered throughout the movie, generally, the moments involving possessed Kat are the highlights – especially the boiler room scene in the third act, that has a classic horror vibe to it, and is built up extremely well as the scene unfolds. When the movie follows a more conventional direction, the movie is at its best. The two girls saying grace with the nuns is a fine example of near-quiet horror, every scene in the boiler room has an air of dread hanging over them. That’s partly due to the way they are shot, and at other times to the slow, build up that precedes them. The movie is packed with quiet, slow lead ups at for the most part they work successfully – this is where the location is at its most effective as Rose weaves her way through the hulking corridors and heavy doors.
The deaths during the movie are frankly blunt and brutal. There is no flashy camerawork involved, the camera is set up to simply observe the rudimentary murders that take place. Shunning the horror convention of overblown, dramatic deaths, The Blackcoat’s Daughter delivers disconcertingly authentic assaults. The moments are consistent with the overall tone of the movie and are well handled.
Sadly, The Blackcoat’s Daughter doesn’t fully deliver on the premise and potential that is clearly there. The performances are all strong and half of the movie is compelling, well shot and creepy. The other, unfortunately, is the opposite, and the rambling nature of the narrative lets the movie down ultimately. Also, the poster font reminded me of Exorcist II: The Heretic (shudder).
It's an ‘OK’ movie.
October 26th 2017