The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)

Posted: May 2, 2017 in 5 stars, Reviews, The Blackcoat's Daughter
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MV5BMTY2NTQ3NTEzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzA0MzY1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I put off watching The Blackcoat’s Daughter/February for all the usual reasons – release delays and renaming followed by limited festival release and direct-to-VOD do not usually bode well for a movie.  After seeing it, I’m a little annoyed about all the tribulations this movie had to go through to make it to my TV.  And I’m not entirely down with the renaming – The Blackcoat’s Daughter is  a more attention-getting name, I guess, but February is the name of this film’s soul.

Because let’s face it: despite a game attempt by Hallmark to shoehorn a feel-good consumer holiday into middle of it, no good comes of February-the-month.  February is an icy, desolate stretch of desaturated misery; winter has long outstayed its welcome, spring isn’t even a faint glimmer on the horizon, and everyone around you has started to look pale, hollow-eyed, and just a little bit unhinged.  February the Movie, February-the-month made celluloid, is captured with stunning viscerality in this movie.

The plot is irksomely difficult to describe without giving away the course of the movie, and the course of the movie is really something you should witness on its own terms.  Briefly, two girls (Lucy Boynton as Rose and Kiernan Shipka as Kat) are stuck at a boarding school as winter break begins, Rose because she put off her parents’ arrival and Kat for more ambiguous reasons.  Some distance away, a very obviously disturbed young woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) escapes from a hospital and hitches a ride toward the school with middle-aged couple Bill (James Remar) and Linda (Lauren Holly) in a Car Ride of Creepy so unsettling that I honestly didn’t know who to yell at to get out of the car.  (Particular kudos are warranted for Holly, who delivers a dead-voiced monologue while in shadow, half turned toward a camera in the back seat, that’s one of the most disturbing and arresting things in the movie.)  Also, there is Satanic possession, but that’s honestly the least of anyone’s worries.

Watching these plot threads come together reminded me a great deal of watching Shutter Island‘s slow descent to a terrible and relentlessly logical end: when you get there, nothing is surprising, everything is awful and inevitable, and nothing is left but the small, cold satisfaction of seeing the glass spray fall into place on the freeway.

I read a review that described The Blackcoat’s Daughter as “a tone poem about loneliness and loss.”  And it is, right up to the haunting and powerful last shot.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow burn done right – not the sort of “slow burn” that means you can ignore the screen until the last ten minutes and still have a pretty good idea what’s going on, but the kind where the creeping dread takes hold in the first scene and never quite lets go.  The cinematography, vaguely Kubrickian, is gorgeous and faintly disorienting.  Everyone in the small cast comes across as just… not quite right, in ways that remind me of how Rosemary’s Baby is described by people who like Rosemary’s Baby.   Like The Witch and The Babadook, it’s a nearly flawless example of a recent trend in horror movies that I’m all in for – the retreat from Eli Roth to Shirley Jackson, moving away from splatter films that are shocking but not really relatable and back to stories where the horror isn’t just voyeuristic but deeper and more existential.  I hope there are more like it coming.

So what’s the verdict?  Five stars.  I started out not expecting much from this movie; two hours later I was one stiff gin and tonic away from going out to collar strangers in the street and demand that they watch it.  Do not do what I did and let The Blackcoat’s Daughter languish in your Amazon rental queue.  You should probably just pre-order the bluray, because it looks like this going to be a film that only gets deeper and more disturbing with subsequent viewings.

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