The Blackcoat’s Daughter
by Hope Madden
Winter break approaches at a Catholic New England boarding school. Snow piles up outside, the buildings empty, yet Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) remain. One has tricked her parents for an extra day with her townie boyfriend. One remains under more mysterious circumstances.
Things in writer/director Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter quietly unravel from there – although quiet is not precisely the word for it. There is a stillness to the chilly, empty halls. But thanks to the filmmaker’s brother Elvis, whose disquieting score fills these empty spaces with buzzing, whispering white noise, a sinister atmosphere is born.
Like Perkins’s Netflix-produced follow up I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Blackcoat’s Daughter breathes atmosphere and tension. Perkins repays your patience and your attention. You can expect few jump scares, but this is not exactly a slow-burn of a film, either.
It behaves almost in the way a picture book does. In a good picture book, the words tell only half the story. The illustrations don’t simply mirror the text, they tell their own story as well. If there is one particular and specific talent Blackcoat’s Daughter exposes in its director, it is his ability with a visual storyline.
Perkins is also a master at generating tension, a kind built on unsure footing. The filmmaker routinely touches on your expectations, quietly toying with them. He introduces characters and situations rife with horror possibilities, but equally plausible as images of safety: priests in a boarding school, cars on an icy road, James Remar in a motel room.
Remar’s mug can be associated with so many villainous characters that his presence in this film as a concerned father figure is perfect. There is one masterpiece of a scene between Remar and Emma Roberts – one that dances with to so many different rhythms of danger – and it perfectly encapsulates this filmmaker’s power over an audience.
When the slow and deliberate dread turns to outright carnage – when Perkins punctuates his forbidding atmosphere with hard action – he loses his footing just a bit. But Blackcoat’s Daughter is a thoughtful little horror show, its final act a fascinating rethinking of old horror tropes.
Pay attention when you watch this one. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.