Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter – formerly known as February to festival fanatics – actually predates his 2016 Netflix release I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. While the latter sophomore effort left me feeling numb and unfulfilled, his former debut is a much more accessible breed of slow-burn damnation. Still not my cup of satanic tea, but Catholic prep schools and psychological torture go hand-in-hand. Many have heralded Perkins’
second first effort “this year’s The Babadook” – which I don’t understand because no themes, characters or techniques are shared – but not here. Hardcore genre fans are in for invasive visual attack, but also a lax attempt to weave symbolism with teenage terror. Perkins’ style will not be for everyone – remember that going in.
We meet three girls throughout The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is a quirky, quiet goody-good whose parents never pick her up for break. Rose (Lucy Boynton) is Kat’s rebellious classmate who purposely tells her parents not to pick her up, as she deals with a pregnancy scare. Then there’s Joan (Emma Roberts), who gets off a bus and discards the patient’s bracelet around her wrist. Two girls who are stuck together in an empty dormitory, another who gets picked up by a sweet couple passing through town (James Remar and Lauren Holly). Too bad one of the girls harbors a dark secret, and Bramford will never be the same after their lives intersect. Pray for escape, but hail Satan on the way out!
Before launching into my qualms, let me first say that Mr. Perkins does strike a few nightmarish visuals. One particular scene with a boiler room and some bloody props may end up on my “Most Disturbing Movie Moments” article for 2017, and its lead-in isn’t without crazed blasphemy. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a leaner, more streamlined thriller versus IATPTTLITH, interested in demon shadows and heretic psychosis. Perkins plays the Devil’s game in a handful of genre-charged portrait shots, but then the unwieldy nature of his poetic delivery twists together like headphone wires stuck in your pocket.
As each girl plays her respective arc, Perkins pulls on too many strings. Linear jumbles jump between characters, never painting a complete picture of any single muse. Rose’s pregnancy fight becomes overshadowed by Kat’s incendiary gaze, as one personality so obviously takes front-and-center. This is while Joan desperately tries to complete her travels, and James Remar releases more and more information about his family’s tragic history. Sometimes the plotted abandonment works, and other times we feel robbed by short bursts of world-building. Spoon-feeding is something that Perkins will never do, but his response is almost too extreme. All in establishing shots – shadowy forms and indistinguishable realities – without clasping ties.
Kiernan Shipka stands out as the disturbed Kat, from her subtlest twitch to full-on proclamations of dark worshipping. She is a neatly-dressed devil in disguise, so committed to blurring the lines between sickness and possession. Her time spent in a basement boiler room is equal parts eerie and diabolic, but story progression moves a bit too quick. The maybe-preggers Lucy Boynton feels lost in the shuffle, while Emma Roberts enacts a mysterious drifter angle who gets her own blackened spotlight to burn in.
Although, suspicion ends up playing the most prevalent role. Conclusions come with questions that overshadow idyllic snowscapes covering godless scars. Even with a piercing final shot where one of the girls stands broken, screaming at the top of her lungs after realizing how alone she is, something feels incomplete. Visually satisfying, but too caught-up with inner-thinking to convey clearer meaning unto patient audiences.
The more I think about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the more each image flickers a little more furious in my mind. At the same time, barbed storylines twist into mangled forms, needing the carefullest attention to untangle. Pay attention or you’ll miss details that are required to piece together Oz Perkins’ demented puzzle. Unfortunately, sometimes this is more a chore than pleasure. It reminds of something Nicholas McCarthy might cook up, obsessed with visual manipulation and light on guidance. A headier, more ethereal brand of thriller, which won’t work for everyone – certainly worth the attempt, though. Trial by fire! The only way to tell if you’ll enjoy a movie or not.
The Blackcoat's Daughter aims for lofty satanic thrills, but gets lost in visuals that oversell a barbed but tangled nightmare.