The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)
Horror filmmaking continues into its renaissance, thanks in large part to a burgeoning indie scene that has dragged the genre back from the mainstream and given voice to writers, directors, and productions that would otherwise have none (read: it ain’t just straight white dudes running the show any more). Today, A24 adds to their formidable indie cred with the release of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a fascinating little horror movie from the mind of Osgood Perkins.
Set in a Catholic girls’ boarding school somewhere in Bramford, NY, The Blackcoat’s Daughter focuses on classmates Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), whose parents fail to show up to pick them up for a week’s vacation. While Kat is convinced that her parents are dead, Rose attempts to reassure her, but has problems of her own. Left alone in the school, with the sole exception of two nuns, bizarre things begin to happen, and it becomes apparent that the girls are not totally alone, the hallways stalked by something not quite human. Their story is intercut with Joan (Emma Roberts), a girl who arrives at a bus station in the dead of winter and is given a ride by Bill (James Remar) and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) to Bramford.
The film cannily avoids revealing too much of its hand at once by constructing a three-pronged tale from varying perspectives, intercutting the experiences of Rose, Kat, and Joan without offering too much introduction or explanation. Just what is happening, and why, only becomes apparent with the piecing together of narratives and minor, apparently throwaway lines. Because of this, the initial half hour of the film might feel disjointed and directionless, but as it all begins to come together, you realize that there was indeed a method at work.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter has much in common with other films that involve devilish hauntings – and bears more than a passing resemblance, visually and thematically, to The Exorcist and The Witch. Yet it is also, fundamentally, about loneliness, and about the lengths to which people will go to escape from the isolation of their lives. The girls are isolated, physically and metaphorically. The inherent loneliness of their situation is rendered palpable by their surroundings, and the horrors that they face become almost inevitable in their enforced isolation – even the blankets on their beds look cold and inappropriate for the weather. The only source of real heat, and color, on the screen is the furnace in the school’s basement – a chilling symbol, in fact, as the significance of the furnace becomes clearer. The storytelling technique here meshes brilliantly with the stark, almost black and white cinematography (and, having lived through numerous Central NY winters, I can safely say that the depiction is pretty much spot-on).
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a fascinating film, another excellent indie horror that frightens without relying on major jump scares or buckets of blood (there is blood, but it’s late in the day and it’s very effective). While it doesn’t quite live up to the multiple layers of A24’s similar production The Witch, The Blackcoat’s Daughter does bring an oblique terror all its own.