That The Blackcoat's Daughter is the directorial debut of Oz Perkins — the son of late actor Anthony Perkins, best known for his chilling Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho — may gave the film lofty expectations for anyone familiar with his background. The same goes for the film's distributor, A24, which just won a best picture Oscar for Moonlight and had one of 2016's best horror films in The Witch. Indeed, The Blackcoat's Daughter shows the Psycho bloodline runs strong in Perkins, who creates some hypnotic, atmospheric horror that finds a delicate balance between emulating iconic films from the genre with exhibiting its own originality.
The Blackcoat's Daughter follows three characters. Rose and Kat are two girls who attend a Catholic boarding school, which is about to enter its winter break. They should've had their parents pick them up for the break, but for unknown reasons neither of their parents show, which means they're both stuck at the school for at least one more night. Meanwhile, a reserved young woman, Joan, is trying to get to the location of the boarding school. She's able to hitch a ride from a grieving couple heading in the same direction.
It's hard to discuss The Blackcoat's Daughter's plot any further without spoiling the film's big twist. It's not a particularly subtle reveal — even for the casual viewer — but Perkins is less interested in keeping viewers in the dark as he is in engrossing them in the creepy ambience of the school. OK, abandoned Catholic boarding school is a scary concept in and of itself. The same goes for anything involving Satan, but Perkins makes great use of an erratic score that bounces between ambient drones and aggressive crescendos.
Needless to say, there's a lot you can do with Satan in a horror film — again, look at The Witch — but The Blackcoat's Daughter provides a nice combination of jump scares and unsettling dialogue; the type you'd expect from someone slipping away to some unknown malevolent force while no one else can stop it.
Perkins' tight direction is buoyed by some strong performances from his cast. Emma Roberts in particular is excellent as Joan, while James Remar is convincingly sympathetic as one of the grieving parents who gives Joan a ride. Though Kiernan Shipka will probably be associated with Mad Men's Sally Draper for the foreseeable future, she does strong work with Kat, doubtless the film's most challenging role.
That said, The Blackcoat's Daughter seems destined to alienate certain horror fans, akin to The Witch or Perkins' second film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It's a slow-burn narrative that requires a good amount of patience from the viewer, considering much of it exists with minimal dialogue. This isn't a bad thing — it just means the film won't appeal to a larger audience (and yet, clearly, it is a surefire hit among critics).
For the patient moviegoer, however, The Blackcoat's Daughter is a promising freshman debut from Perkins.
The Blackcoat's Daughter arrives in theaters and is available on demand March 31.
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