It’s been nigh on 26 years (okay, 2 years. but i’m keeping the release year at 2017) since I first heard tell of a little film called February. It was getting some positive festival buzz, so I put it in my list of films to check out when I could. I was unable to attend when it showed at a special screening in Chicago. By that time though, it was re-dubbed The Blackcoat’s Daughter. I wasn’t too disheartened. I figured that it had been long enough since it’s initial festival run that I’d be seeing it either on video or in wider release in no time. Well, I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that director, Osgood Perkins, directed and released another movie – I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House – in the meantime. It was a long time before news of its release came. And it was bad news. It was coming to DirecTV’s on-demand service – a service that I don’t have. It was beginning to look like it was just not meant to be. But then! It had a limited theater run! And I saw it! (a fact that probably doesn’t surprise you since you’re reading my review of it)
Katherine is a freshman at an all-girls Catholic boarding school in upstate New York. She’s eagerly counting down the days until her parents come to pick her up for the break and to see her perform in the talent show. Rose is a jaded upper-classman whose period is late. She deliberately told her parents the wrong date for the start of break to have a night or two to talk things through with her boyfriend. So, when Rose’s parents do not show up – as expected – and Kat’s parents don’t show up – unexpectedly – the two girls are left alone in the big school with the two sisters who stay there over the break. (like, holy sisters) Rose sneaks out after telling Kat, who thought Rose would look after her, that she’s not a babysitter. When she returns, she finds Kat in the basement behaving strangely. She helps her get cleaned up and offers to help her further, but Kat rather ominously tells her, “you had your chance”. The girls’ story is intercut with one focusing on Joan, a young woman seemingly running from something. Maybe it had something to do with the circular scar on her shoulder? Or the hospital ID bracelet she pries off in a bus stop bathroom? Joan is picked up by a man who may not have the best intentions. His wife certainly doesn’t like the idea of having Joan tag along as they head to the town that happens to be where Kat and Rose’s school is. Will their stories connect? (yeah. duh)
As I mentioned in my review for I Am the Pretty Thing…, Osgood Perkins builds tension well. He does a masterful job of it in this film. Tiny quirks of behavior compound and amplify as stakes are subtly raised. Perkins further demonstrates this mastery through clever framing (the editing is perfect too). He puts most of his subjects in the right two-thirds of the frame so often that it becomes a subconscious routine for the viewer. We feel an unfocused sense of unease when that routine is disrupted. It’s a brilliant device! (and i probably dampened that effect by making you aware of it. so… spoiler, i guess) Further – composition, framing, light and shadow are all spot on, making this film as beautiful as it is brutal. And it is brutal. Once the slow-build tension breaks into full-blown terror, events unfold with alarming intensity. Storylines merge in shocking ways. Motivations are revealed through clever flashbacks to previous scenes that are now shown from another character’s perspective. And blood flows freely. Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, and Lucy Boynton – the three women who carry this film – all put in perfect performances. They deftly portray ranges of emotions that would tax even veteran actors. This is indie horror at its best.
The Final Cut: The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a shining example of superior genre filmmaking in every way. Fans of deliberate, intense character-driven horror will not be disappointed.