The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015) / Horror
aka The Devil's Daughter
MPAA Rated: R for brutal bloody violence and brief strong language
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, James Remar, Lauren Holly
Director: Oz Perkins
Screenplay: Oz Perkins
Review published May 8, 2017
The Blackcoat's Daughter is a slow-moving, atmospheric horror film, offering plenty of buildup, but how much some will feel the payoff makes the initial requirement of patience worthwhile will widely vary among viewers. Writer-director Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House), the son of Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame), milks that slow pace for all of its worth, in stationary cameras capturing actors that are mostly sitting and talking throughout most of the early scenes. It's a tale that relies more on the feeling of dimly lit, icy isolation afforded the relatively empty, snowed-in environs as part of the eerie, moody ambience.
Set primarily at Bramford, a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York, we find two lonely students there, Rose (Boynton, Sing Street) and Kat (Shipka, "Feud"), who are the only ones left in the facility as the institution prepares for winter break, stating that they are waiting for their parents to pick them up. In the meanwhile, the elder of the two, Rose, who needs time to discuss her unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend, is told to look after freshman Kat, who is beginning to exhibit odd behavior in isolation after having particularly disturbing visions involving her parents. Meanwhile, we also follow Joan (Roberts, Nerve), an escaped mental ward patient intent on traveling to the area, who gets assistance from a couple of middle-aged strangers who have reason why they take to the young woman so readily.
Though the budget is modest, particularly when it comes to locales, the look of the film matches up with higher end productions, starting with the terrific cinematography from Julie Kirkwood (The Monster), as well as solid use of lighting and sound effects to deliver that absorbing atmosphere, made more hair-tingling by Oz Perkins' younger brother Elvis's eerie score. The pieces of the technical side of the puzzle are good enough that a very good chiller might emerge with a halfway decent script and tense, suspenseful direction. Alas, it's the story itself that feels rough, with reveals that are telegraphed some ways off, and developments that don't seem worthy of a full-length feature to explore.
Perkins pulls together a nice ensemble of actors, both young and veteran, to work with, and though there is a similarity between the main young actresses that makes them difficult to tell apart on occasion, there is a narrative need for this that makes sense. At its core, it's another story about demonic possession, not unlike dozens, if not hundreds, that have come in the decades since The Exorcist, though that film has rarely been bested at its own game. This one separates itself from most by having three main characters to follow in the story, as well as some some tinkering with a timeline that's not always known, or established early, until the right time to converge to show us the complete picture.
If the film seeks to generate interest through its reveals, it may be a hit-or-miss experience for some viewers, as many (including myself) will likely be well onto where the bifurcated storylines are heading enough to perhaps not even recognize that Perkins is playing the story as a twisty mystery a good deal of the time. Sometimes its too easy to recognize the solution to a shell game when the pieces are moving so slowly that it affords time for substantial contemplation of where the story is heading.
Horror audiences who prefer atmosphere over jump-scares will no doubt find The Blackcoat's Daughter a breath of fresh air, but those who are more into persistent titillation will likely lose patience early on, and won't be pleased when they find that the film only goes from first to second gear in those times when you expect it to floor it. Non-horror fans will likely be tepid toward the project, as it doesn't offer much in the way of story elements to follow that one might consider interesting beyond the creepier implications. It's a methodical film that offers modest rewards, savored by those who prefer macabre, dread-filled horror flicks over extravagantly harrowing, sensation-based ones.
©2017 Vince Leo