The Blackcoats Daughter (2015)

AKA February
Director: Osgood Perkins
Starring: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Lauren Holly, James Remar. USA. 1h 33m

After an influx of “The Exorcism of [insert name here]” movies, Osgood Perkins hits back with an edgy and slow drifting art house approach to the saturated possession genre that insists on it’s audiences full attention; as it pulls them through a mid winter drama filled with tense dark undercurrents that chilled the cast before filming and has made it’s fans think and overthink the terrifying and mind bending finale.

Perkins struggled to get the film released despite it being loved at many film festivals, but after a change of name from February to the more sinister Blackcoats Daughter. Something which sounds like it came from an old rhyme or has a deeper historic meaning but it simply doesn’t. It’s these little touches which helped to confuse the audience and adds to the films mystery, Perkings does analogise that the blackcoat could be a priest or the devil, both have often been credited for dressing in black but he just simply liked the sound of the words together and it’s up to his audience to make what they will of it. Perkins has a talent for creating deeper mythologies within the narrative of his film projects and allowing interpretation, while this openness could be seen a wild genius, it can also become grating

While this unsettling atmospheric movie has enough curiosity woven into each scene, there’s also an added touch of having two different timelines entwined together which a lot didn’t pick up on at first, and it seems an added complication at first but nothing about Perkins style is straightforward, instead he’s poetic in his approach to cinema. There are long drawn out scenes and a textured soundtrack that grows and pulsates in the scenes. He refuses to frame his main cast in the centre of the screen, but they are often left tiltering on the edge. Not one for the over popular trend of false jump scares he builds the mood up but delivers something so strange that you wish it was a false alarm.

This terrifying movie centers on Kat (Shipka) and Rose (Boynton), two girls who are left alone at their prep school in Bramford over winter break when their parents mysteriously fail to pick them up. Rose is happy to stay behind as she has unfinished business with her lover but Kat does seem to be experiencing increasingly strange and creepy occurrences at the isolated school. As they slowly get about their week of freedom there are mummers about the nuns at the school being secret satanists and both girls seem to edge around each other and their carers, although in one scene where they are all together there is a legendary vomit scene. Interlaced throughout the movie is another seemingly unrelated story as a young woman named Joan (Roberts) is traveling across the country alone, for unknown reasons, she’s determined to get to Bramford as fast as she can. As Joan gets closer to the school, Kat becomes plagued by progressively intense disturbing behavior.

Beetle beetle, blackcoat’s daughter, what was in the holy water?”

Kiernan Shipka really steals centre stage (if not the camera frame) throughout this drama, it’s easy to see that she’s going to be a catalyst of the story from her very first interaction with one of the priests at the beginning of the movie. Her compelling performance is consistent and her wry smile and powerful stare easily unnerves. But both young women often only have the tasks of sitting pretty in some scenes, as Perkins tries to build a story around them using music and long darkened shots, maybe with a bit more faith in his talented actresses he could have leveled up the film by allowing them to build some of the tension themselves.

With the gorgeous cold setting of the northern winter, the icy surface helps add to the feeling of isolation, but before that cold creeps in it’s killed off with the addition of strange supernatural knocks and whispers and the addition of the other story and new characters which become more prominent as the film drags on but with the safe knowledge that something dreadful is coming.

For the most part the non linear stories and long still shots, the allure of the boiler room, add towards the desperate feel of the movie, but with so little information there is also a sense of vague ambiguity which starts to kill off everything that was built up in the earlier. Without wanting to add any spoilers it’s hard to justify why this all works out in the end, the clashing of two storylines and finally working out the reason for Joan’s pilgrimage makes it really is worth getting to the end, and soon you’ll want to watch the film again.

For such a minimalist movie it somehow delivers a huge impact and a fairly respectable kill count. It easily has an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like anything is really happening but the creeping additions and respectable body count, don’t feel like they belong together but this is part of the magic of Perkins unique style, it’s something that will divide horror fans, with some asking if this is even horror and others struggling to define it. For me it is what it is, something a little more abstract that highlights a bit of girl power and speaks tons about our perceptions and the role of religion and mental health.

Rating: 6/10

R: The possession of Michael King (2014), The Woods (2006), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
L: A-Z Possession Movies
A: A Brief introduction and history of Possession movies

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