Thursday, 24 August 2017

Review: The Blackcoat's Daughter

Today’s horror movie review is an odd fish and, to be honest, not really what I expected from the blurb or the trailer. Read on…

I actually watched this one as an import under the alternative title ‘February’ – a far better name, actually, because as far as I could tell the ‘Blackcoat’ only really appears in the first few minutes of the film, and it’s never made clear if the girl at the centre of proceedings is his (or maybe her) daughter or not.

The setup has great potential. Two girls at a religious boarding school are left behind when school breaks up for the holidays, because their parents don’t collect them. The older girl, Rose, is instructed to babysit the younger, Kat, until their parents turn up. The remote location, and the idea of these two kids being alone in a huge empty school with something sinister roaming the halls is a great premise. Elsewhere, we have a mysterious, troubled girl, Joan, hitching a ride toward the school, although it’s not explained at first what her connection is.

What we have here is a slow-burn, psychological movie, which may or may not be supernatural in nature. In fact, nothing much is made very clear to the viewer at all, with the movie’s predilection for non-linear narrative, jumbled, juxtaposed images, and very little dialogue. It’s almost art-house at times, beautifully shot, and sometimes poignant. In style and atmosphere, themes and location, and certainly in terms of the soundtrack, it’s very similar to one of my favourites, Session9. However, although not a terrible film, it does fall a long way short of that particular horror gem.

Where Session 9 genuinely fills every frame with a sense of unease, The Blackcoat’s Daughter attempts to artificially wring that sense from its scenes through a jarring soundtrack overlaid onto the most mundane shots. It’s only later when director Osgood Perkins fills in the blanks through flashbacks that we see what he was driving at, but by then I fear a few people may have switched off because, aside from a few truly creepy moments, the movie is almost unforgivably dull. It’s not helped by the fact that the biggest twist is rather clumsily handled – the only reason you don’t guess it right from the start is because the on-screen captioning – the thing you look to for concrete information such as location, character name and/or timeframe – deliberately misleads you. That doesn’t sit well with me – I’d rather have no captions than ones that fib. And sadly, it’s not an original twist – it’s been done much more successfully elsewhere, and very recently (not wanting to post spoilers, but see HBO’s Westworld).

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is eerie, hauntingly beautiful in parts, and does have a rather poignant ending, with serious questions about diminished responsibility. The possession aspect is pretty original, and rarely resorts to tired tropes. While she doesn’t have a huge amount to do, Emma Roberts further cements her acting credentials, and I reckon it’s a matter of time before she becomes a box office draw in her own right. It’s just a shame the pacing is so cretaceous, and the whole doesn’t mesh slightly better.

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