Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

This October, we’re challenging ourselves to watch at least one horror movie a day. Today, a true gem from the recent slow burn horror movement.

It seems fitting that The Blackcoat’s Daughter would come from Anthony Perkins’s offspring Oz Perkins. It indulges in dread and tension, punctuated with moments of brutal, unexpected violence in the same way Psycho did nearly sixty years ago. The film may be all style and no substance, but it’s hard to complain when the atmosphere and setting are used this effectively.

The primary narrative strand takes place at a Catholic boarding school where two girls have been left behind by parents whose absences may have sinister explanations. Kat (Kiernan Shipka) feels introverted and uncomfortable in her own skin, and she’s visibly upset that her parents haven’t arrived. Rose (Lucy Boynton) acts as the more confident, stereotypical mean girl, who reveals she told her parents the wrong date because she facing a personal issue. The B-storyline involves Joan (Emma Roberts), hitching a ride with a mysterious set of grieving parents (James Remar and Lauren Holly) as they head to this same Catholic school. As a viewer, it’s easy to recognize that both something violent and tragic will eventually unfold and that these two seemingly disparate narratives will intertwine.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is almost all mood and ever-building dread, much like Ti West’s House of the Devil. The Catholic school consists of darkened corridors, foreboding staircases, and sparsely decorated dorm rooms. Even brighter rooms like the kitchen and dining room seem awash in sickly, gray light. If there’s ever a setting that seems destined for something terrible to befall it, it would be this school. The overcast, snow-packed outside only serves to re-emphasize how desolate and secluded they seem. Perkins keeps the tension deliberately but steadily building to its brutal climax.

He also pulls strong performances out of his talented cast:

Shipka, best known for Mad Men, infuses Kat with some of the traits that made Sally Draper such a fascinating creation. She appears thoughtful and older than her years. Her every look indicates she knows more than anyone else.

Boynton, who eventually went on to reteam with Perkins in I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, plays Rose as the kind of girl too busy with her own issues (which I won’t divulge here) to care much about Kat’s own drama. She tells her anything she can to shut her up, so she can get back to trying to handle her own problems, and Boynton plays that well.

Meanwhile, Roberts’ interactions with Remar and Holly ooze menace. For the majority of the running time, it’s unclear who is actually the threat to be guarded against, but it’s obvious someone is concealing their true nature. However, there’s also an underlying sense of anguish. These characters have lost something they desperately miss, and they hope they’ll find it at the end of their journey. In a strange way, the film becomes about lost children and lost parents desperately trying to rectify past mistakes.

Perkins probably strings his audience along for longer than he should. The viewer stays engaged longer than expected because the central mystery involving the twin narratives is arresting, but the film begins to drag just before its climax kicks in. Once it does, though, the violence is brutal, haunting and exquisitely rendered.

Ultimately, The Blackcoat’s Daughter succeeds because of an almost pathological refusal to rely on horror clichés. You’ll find no false jump scares nor shallow moments, as Perkins relies on the tension that accompanies silent anticipation. Instead, it’s a film that sends chills down the spine and keeps the viewer precariously balanced between dread and fascination. It serves as the equivalent of an icy, skeletal hand down the spine and a cup of bitter poison, an ideal experience for a chilly night at home.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Here’s What Else We’ve Watched So Far:

Tomorrow: Berberian Sound Studio & Matinee

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