Film Review: ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’

Osgood Perkins impresses — and scares — with his chilly debut feature about young women and dark forces.

Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, James Remar, Lauren Holly, Greg Ellwand, Elana Krausz, Heather Tod Mitchell, Peter James Haworth.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3286052/

Let’s address the obvious right off the bat: Yes, “The Blackcoat’’s Daughter” (formerly known as “February”) is the first feature written and directed by Osgood Perkins — son of Anthony Perkins, the late, great actor who made his stab at immortality as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” — and yes, this, too, is a thriller that generates a shock or two through the grievous misuse of cutlery. (Come to think of it, it also features a portentous closeup of water swirling down a bathtub drain.) But rest assured, this slow-burning, sure-footed scary movie is likely to prompt discussions about things other than family traditions — or, if you prefer, bloodlines. An atmospheric and suspenseful indie with a subtle but unmistakable retrograde feel, it should score with sophisticated genre aficionados and anyone else inclined to savor a stealthy, unsettling escalation of dread before full-bore horror kicks in.

The challenge facing those eager to talk or write about “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” is simple yet daunting: You can’t provide too many details without spilling an inordinate number of beans. Indeed, it’s hard to praise the three lead performances — which, not incidentally, are very good indeed — without spoiling the pleasure of appreciating how each actress approaches her role.

The narrative proceeds along two parallel tracks during the dead of winter. At a prestigious Catholic prep school for girls, two very different students — Kat (Kiernan Shipka of TV’s “Mad Men”), a taciturn introvert, and Rose (Lucy Boynton), a sullen mean girl — are left alone with two older female employees because, they claim, their parents have been delayed while traveling to pick them up for the winter break. (At least one of the girls, it’s safe to assume, is lying.) Several miles away, Joan (Emma Roberts), a skittish young woman who’s evidently on unauthorized leave from a clinic (or a mental hospital), is journeying through the snow when she gets a lift from a middle-aged couple (James Remar, Lauren Holly) whose motives may or may not be as selfless as they seem.

At the school, Perkins sustains tension and raises a gaggle of goosebumps by accentuating the chilly ambiance — there are times when you can practically see how cold it must be in the dark and (presumably) deserted hallways and storage areas — and alternating between unnatural silences and the atonal score composed by his brother, Elvis Perkins. (Julie Kirkwood’s economical lensing is another major plus.) On the road, the freshman filmmaker shrewdly toys with audience expectations — James Remar has played entirely too many villains onscreen for the audience to easily accept his character here at face value — and works quiet and disquieting miracles in a hotel-room scene that is at once erotically charged and fraught with menace.

In addition to everything else he does right in “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” Perkins plays fair: When you replay the movie in your mind after the final fadeout, you realize that every twist was dutifully presaged, and the final reveal was hidden in plain sight all along. One might quibble with the filmmaker’s use of a shadowy visual that could pass as the evil sibling of James Stewart’s camera-shy companion in “Harvey.” But that minor distraction is easily overlooked as you ponder one of the more provocative questions raised by Perkins: Might the beneficiary of an exorcism ever long to be repossessed?

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Blackcoat's Daughter'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept. 12, 2015. Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: “February”)

Production: (Canada-U.S.) A Paris Film production in association with Unbroken Pictures, Zed Filmworks and Go Insane Pictures. (International sales: Highland Film Group, West Hollywood.) Produced by Adrienne Biddle, Rob Paris, Bryan Bertino, Robert Menzies, Alphonse Ghossein. Executive producers, Carissa Buffel, Kevin Matasow, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Henry Wintersterin, Stephen Hays, Peter Graham. Co-producer, Steven Chester Prince.

Crew: Directed, written by Osgood Perkins. Camera (color), Julie Kirkwood; editor, Brian Ufberg; music, Elvis Perkins; production designers, Shane Boucher, Lisa Soper; set decorator, Garren Dunbar; costume designer, Jennifer Stroud; sound, Trevor Goulet; associate producers, Chris Armogida, Sarah Deline; assistant director, Anthony Lefresne; casting, Eyde Belasco.

With: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, James Remar, Lauren Holly, Greg Ellwand, Elana Krausz, Heather Tod Mitchell, Peter James Haworth.

More Film

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for Best Actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • Quentin Tarantino (L) and US actor

    Quentin Tarantino Holds Firm, Won't Recut 'Once Upon a Time' for China

    Quentin Tarantino will not recut “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” to placate Chinese censors, Variety has confirmed. The decision likely means that the Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt buddy dramedy and ode to late sixties Tinseltown won’t be making an appearance in China — at least in non-pirated form. Tarantino previously ran afoul of [...]

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Flying Low With $35 Million Opening

    Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is heading for an opening weekend of about $35 million at 3,790 North American locations — significantly below forecasts, early estimates showed on Friday. The fantasy sequel should still win the domestic weekend box office handily, denying Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” a third consecutive victory. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” will [...]

  • Naomie Harris Shriek

    'Venom 2': Naomie Harris Eyed to Play Villain Shriek Opposite Tom Hardy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Naomie Harris is in talks to play Spider-Man villain Shriek in Sony’s “Venom 2,” with Tom Hardy returning as the titular anti-hero. Andy Serkis is on board to direct, and Michelle Williams and Woody Harrelson are also reprising their roles. The original film was a huge hit for the studio when it premiered in 2018, [...]

  • David Weisman

    David Weisman, 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' Producer, Dies at 77

    David Weisman, who was Oscar-nominated as producer of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” died Oct. 9 in Los Angeles due to complications from West Nile virus. He was 77. Weisman had a long career as a graphic designer and photographer and co-wrote and co-directed cult classic “Ciao! Manhattan” about 1960s icon Edie Sedgwick. Born in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content