From its first moments to its last, this movie is as beautiful as it is unsettling. Originally released at a couple of festivals in 2015, The Blackcoat’s Daughter didn’t get a theatrical release until now. And as is the case with the film’s climax, it’s worth the wait. Writer/director Oz Perkins, making his directorial debut, definitely earns his marks with this unrelentingly eerie slow burn that’s sure to deliver a scare that will stay with you.
It’s a snowy February at Bramford, an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school in upstate New York, as everyone prepares to leave for winter break. Katherine (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are the only two left when their parents don’t arrive to pick them up. The two don’t get along very well, Katherine being the quiet, straight-laced type, and Rose being older, cooler, and not interested in babysitting a freshman. Meanwhile Joan (Emma Roberts), having recently escaped from an institution, meets a good Samaritan named Bill (James Remar) and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) who pick her up and get her a hotel room for the night. The three of them are all headed towards Bramford, each seeming to have their own mysterious motivation. The story is split into three distinct parts: Rose, Joan, and Kat. Each part focuses on that respective character’s general point of view of the events that occur.
In some ways, The Blackcoat’s Daughter walks the line between a successful and artistic slow-building thriller and a pretentious, self-indulgent one. But based on the efficiency with which it builds and maintains suspense, coupled with how goddamn good it looks doing it, I’d say it absolutely sides with the former. In terms of style and tone, this film is comparable to such others as The Witch (2015) and The Eyes of My Mother (2016). These films take their sweet time in allowing their stories to unfold, but do so with an increasingly ominous ambience that keeps the viewer on edge and at constant unease. This atonal, brooding ambience is driven by an eerie score which lingers subtly but maliciously in the background at all times. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a soft-spoken film that relies far more heavily on visual storytelling than wordy dialogue, much to its success.
The camerawork in this movie is possibly the most interesting, and my favorite part. Cinematographer Julie Kirkwood’s use of unorthodox angles and shot compositions perfectly accompanies and further develops the film’s tone. Through consistently dark lighting and tight, almost minimalistic shots, the viewer is forced to search the frame for detail which is often not provided. In some of the film’s later scenes, there are certain depictions that are somewhat reminiscent of German expressionism in their dark, nightmarish simplicity.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is artistic horror at its best, using all elements of filmmaking to drive its unnerving suspense. Rather than cling to tropes and archetypes, this film decides to take horror in its own direction, and scare viewers in a way that completely opposes the cheap jump scare. It takes its time laying down the foundation, but the story that’s built upon it is one that’s worth the wait. And with a runtime of only 93 minutes, it’s not a daunting investment.