Mysterious goings-on go on at an all-girl Catholic school over winter break. The film is shot with an excess of style that got in the way of the coherence. The freezing setting of upstate New York reaches into the tone of the entire film and even the spirit of the viewer. The ambience is certainly creepy, but the story seems to take forever to get to where it is going and too much is obscured by unclear voices and darkly photographed, often rear-lit scenes. The film is written and directed by Oz Perkins who went on to write and direct the similarly indistinct ‘I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House’.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Watching this film, ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ is like stepping into a large freezer. In cold and icy upstate New York is Bramford, a prestigious Catholic school for girls. The school is decorated in a colour scheme of metallic blue and gray, symbolising complete rejection anything warm and human. Director and writer Oz Perkins clearly wants to take even more humanity from its characters and show them as silhouettes against the blue light coming off the fields of snow outside. Sadly, this makes the main characters look too similar and even with a small cast it is hard for the viewer to keep track who each one is.
It is the beginning of the February winter break. In fact, the film was originally titled ‘February’. The parents should have collected the girls to take home. At least, that was the plan. Rose (played by Lucy Boynton) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) were not picked up and the headmaster of the school has to make special arrangement for them to stay in the building. A third girl, Joan (Emma Roberts), ends sitting at a bus stop late at night. We do not know how she fits in or why. We do know that Rose has arranged to miss winter break so she will not have to face her parents and tell them that she and her boyfriend have on the way a little problem together.
That is still early in the movie and there is a lot more to go before the horror of the film kicks in. Director Perkins knows how to shoot his scenes to build tension. Oddly, we don’t know why this part of the story has us on edge, but it foreshadows what is to come. Still, we may not be sure who, if anyone, will be menacing whom. When the violence occurs and, yes, it is coming, it is kept out of sight of the camera. There is no gore distastefully shaken in the face of the viewer.
The photography is good, but it is at odds with the storytelling. It is hard to tell the school girls apart in half-light. It is even hard to tell a blonde from a girl with darker hair when they are both lit from behind. The film uses darkness and slow-pacing, much as German Expressionism did. The musical score in the main body of the film is mostly electronic music so it does not feel organic. I missed what the title referred to. ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ takes a long time to get where it is going and where it is going is familiar territory. I rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ has played at film festivals and was released to theatres March 31.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2017