THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER: The Film You Aren’t Ready To See (But Should)
In order to grasp the ferocity of the film formerly known as February, we need to start at the beginning. Set primarily in an all-girls Catholic boarding school (are you terrified already?), The Blackcoat’s Daughter tells the tale of three women bound together by a series of ominous occurrences.
In order to grasp the ferocity of the film formerly known as February, we need to start at the beginning.
Set primarily in an all-girls Catholic boarding school (are you terrified already?), The Blackcoat’s Daughter tells the tale of three women bound together by a series of ominous occurrences. The film begins as the school lets out for February break (cue former title) and closes their doors for the season.
For reasons relating to possible miscommunications with each of their parents, both Kat (Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men) and Rose (Lucy Boynton of Sing Street) are unable to depart the campus and are forced to stay there under the exclusive and lenient supervision of two nurses there. So here we are, stranded at a nearly vacant boarding school in the dead of winter and one of these two girls is definitely feeling some type of way.
In true anthological form, the story of the third woman, Joan (Emma Roberts of American Horror Story), develops parallel (though ambiguously) to what’s occurring at the school. While waiting at a bus station, she accepts a ride from a married couple driving by (James Remar and Lauren Holly) and travels with them across the icy landscape. This seemingly random hitchhiking narrative eventually connects to the boarding school girls at the start of the film’s cataclysmic third act. It is then that these fragmented stories begin to link and a preternatural force at work is brought into clearer view.
This film, a debut feature directed by Osgood “Oz” Perkins (the son of the great Anthony Perkins) caused quite a stir with audiences when it premiered at The Toronto International Film Festival last year and absolutely terrified me when I saw it at The Chicago Critics Film Festival. There are evils in this movie that linger in shadow and puppeteer the movements of certain characters within it.
Walking Through Water
The slow-burn dread in this film was accompanied by some of the slowest walking I have ever seen, and it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that I found myself squirming in my seat as the elongated dread lingered and pulsed. For lovers of the macabre like myself, you know this to be a good thing.
For example, there exists a five-minute-long walking scene that opens as Rose hears whispered hisses through the vent in an upstairs bathroom. She gradually follows the sound to the basement, where indistinct chants echo through the cryptic halls lined with ceiling pipes likely made especially for diabolical ricochet. What distinguishes this horror film from factory-made others is represented here, wherein the first three minutes of the scene are silent aside from Rose’s footsteps and the distant murmuring .
Both the scene and the narrative itself simmer to the sound of silence and build to strings, drones, and other malicious sonorous instruments of torture. The consequence of the play between the evocative quiet and acrimonious sound in The Blackcoat’s Daughter left me feeling suspended in the anticipation of something dreadful in the shadows. Rest assured, something does lurk there, and what Rose finds at the end of that basement hallway is worth the wait.
The atmosphere constructed in this film is enveloped in darks so deep and winter so viscerally nefarious that my hot Chicago summer-viewing of it proved to be both timely and jarring. Fair warning to the squeamish: this film goes there. It goes a bit past there, actually, yet an example of the violence exhibited would only prove to spoil key elements.
Taking a Hint
Perkins strategically positions clues around this film that combine to translate the events that transpire throughout (which will undoubtedly make for an intriguing second viewing). It takes confidence in a director to place the assumption of intelligence on the audience who, whether consciously or not, might find hidden Easter Eggs and collect them to solve the puzzle.
True Detective Season 1 employed a similar strategy in its mystery: placing clues around the mise-en-scène to hint at an answer. If you are looking for an example while watching The Blackcoat’s Daughter, you may find foreshadowing in the human anatomy posters in the nurse’s office.
I suspect homage to Oz Perkins’ father in moments so subtly Psycho that my Hitchcock epiphany was only reached after walking out of The (magical) Music Box Theater. There was a scene fairly reminiscent of Arbogast meeting Bates’ mother that gave me quite the Oprah, “ah hah” moment in my car on the retrospective drive home. I encourage you to go see it so you, too, can be terrified. That way, we can talk about how slow everyone moves and collectively wonder what’s up with Kat’s hand.
Straying from the Assembly Line
The Blackcoat’s Daughter, The Witch, It Follows, The Invitation and The House of the Devil are examples of prototypical vehicles for a new-wave horror that diverges from the assembly line and strays from overpitched archetypes. If you liked any of the latter films, you are likely to appreciate this one. It is yet another remarkable addition to A24’s collection and features extraordinary female-lead performances.
I went into this Chicago Film Festival screening entirely unaware of what was to come, and for that, I am thankful. Thus, my intention here has not necessarily been to prepare you for The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but to give insight into the ingenious craft it possesses. I do hope that you watch this film because then you’ll see. You’ll see and you’ll know that it is capable of hurting far more than a fly.
Do you think this new-wave horror genre will appeal to a wide audience?
This film will be released exclusively on DirecTV February 16th before hitting limited theaters on March 31st.
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