Independent Film Festival Boston 2016: 'The Blackcoat's Daughter'

Taut, brutal, and atmospheric, The Blackcoat's Daughter is a bold but slightly derivative effort from debut director Osgood Perkins.

The Blackcoat's Daughter

Director: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Paris Film, TPSC, Unbroken Pictures, Zed Filmworks
Year: 2015
US Release Date: 2016-07-15 (DirecTV)

A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises -- screeching creaks and low groans -- betray the assumption that they’re alone here.

At the same time, Joan (Emma Roberts), a girl with a cloudy past, wanders through a cold, snowy landscape, eventually hitching a ride with an unnamed couple whose strained dynamic hints at trouble unspoken. They share uncomfortable car rides to a town a few miles away, the husband assuming a strangely paternal role for Joan.

Formerly titled February (hence, the movie poster, here), The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow, moody, and thoroughly unnerving walk through an almost overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere. Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, demonstrates great skill in developing the film’s occult atmosphere. His jagged camera angles and the dark, discordant music combine with subdued performances -- naturalistic with a small degree of slowly simmering insanity underneath them -- to create a creeping mood that seems perfectly tailored to the film’s narrative.

Some reviewers have criticized the film’s supposedly confusing non-linear editing. It’s true there are some aspects of the editing that don’t completely utilize the style’s strengths. A particular offense may be that important story elements seem too telegraphed, too obvious given the myriad of clues.

For the most part, though, the editing is an extension of the film’s atmosphere. Its bold confusion is one way for Perkins to summon unease, a way of keeping the audience constantly wondering, leaving scenes at the precise time when resolution is wanted, but not needed. It’s a constant game of tension building to an intense climax.

The film’s trio of young female actresses represent the best of what modern horror needs. Kiernan Shipka plays her role with an unsettling twist on the typical demure horror protagonist. Roberts, known for roles in Scream 4, Scream Queens, and American Horror Story, wades into more serious territory in The Blackcoat’s Daughter. She does so with aplomb, taking us through Joan’s story with the perfect amount of restraint.

Joan is mysterious, and Roberts plays that up, giving us morsels of information through subtle reactions that end up speaking volumes. Lucy Boynton, on the other hand, doesn’t seem as comfortable in her role as Rose. She tackles it well, but there’s a sense that her bad-girl persona doesn’t fit her; a conscious choice, perhaps.

At the heart of the film is a mystery that unfolds slowly and deliberately, clearly aware of the non-linear structure but organized nonetheless. It plays out perfectly, the requisite twists and turns are executed well. More than that, though, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is deliberately a mood piece, and there’s no denying that everything about it -- from the acting to composer Elvis Perkins’ piercing soundtrack -- works to create the mood that Osgood was working for.

However, it’s slightly disappointing that the film relies as much as it does on obvious various horror tropes. The film succeeds because Perkins is able to craft that perfectly unsettling atmosphere, but it’s limited by the narrative, which too often veers into territory that seems more indicative of derivative indie horror. Still, Osgood Perkins has managed to single himself out as a horror director with a unique and terrifying voice.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.