Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Blackcoat’s Daughter: February Chills Your Soul

What school has its semester break in February? It sounds like particularly poor planning for a boarding school in the snowy Northeast. Indeed, the staff assumes two of their students’ parents have been waylaid by the weather, but we suspect something much more sinister is afoot in Osgood Perkin’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter (a.k.a. February, trailer here), which A24 and DirecTV will release in theaters and On-Demand March 31, 2017.

Lucy the upperclassman deliberately gave her parents incorrect information to allow herself more time to deal with what she suspects is an unwanted pregnancy. In contrast, young Kat was eagerly anticipating the arrival of her parents, but she fears her nightmarish visions of an icy car crash have come true. Something very bad will happen during their long lonely night at Bramford, which will continue to reverberate nine years later.

In that later timeline, Joan Marsh is trying to reach Bramford as quickly as possible, even though she is conspicuously unprepared for the harsh winter weather. Presumably, she is quite fortunate to get picked up by Bill and Linda, but they too have a troubling backstory. Apparently, she reminds him of their late daughter, a Bramford student who was brutally murdered. Obviously, the trauma left them permanently damaged, but they might also be somewhat cracked. Eventually, all the relationships become clear as Perkins cuts between storylines.

Perkins is the son of Anthony Perkins, the original Norman Bates, and he definitely upholds the standards of the family business. Blackcoat is an extraordinarily disciplined horror film that cranks up the tension through the power of suggestion and uncertainty rather than messy special effects. In a more just world, Blackcoat would be a shoe-in for an Academy Award for its profoundly unsettling ambient sound design and that ghostly “Deedle, deedle, Blackcoat’s daughter, what was in the holy water” song would at least be one of the ceremony’s musical numbers, regardless whether it is Oscar-eligible. The spartan deserted prep school setting is also eerie as all get out.

Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts are creepy as heck as Kat and Marsh. However, it is James Remar and Lauren Holly who really kick the film up several notches as Bill and Linda. We’re talking about some stinging, push-you-into-the-back-of-your-seat work here. They also provide some helpful misdirection for a twist that really isn’t that hard to anticipate—however, its implications are deeply disturbing.

There is no doubt Perkins has a keen grasp of what makes the demonic so profoundly terrifying. He also has a practical understanding of horror movie mechanics. This is a scary movie, precisely because of its subtlety and exacting mise-en-scène. Highly recommended for smart horror fans, The Blackcoat’s Daughter opens this Friday (3/31) in New York, at the Village East.