★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Hmmm…this one’s a real puzzler. Playing with time, space, roles, and well, the fundamental tenets of horror. Which begs the question(s): should horror be a fun non-thinky romp of hack and slash, or should it require you to start up the ol’ thinker and actually pay attention? The Blackcoat’s Daughter is really and firmly parked in the camp of the later.
Originally released in 2015, this freaky satan-infused romp was written and directed by Oz Perkins, and it was then released to theaters in 2017 by horror darlings A24. Interestingly, director/writer Perkins first acting gig happened in 1983 when he appeared in 1983’s Psycho II, where he played a 12 year-old version of the stab-y Norman Bates. And unless you haven’t pieced it together…his old man was the original Norman Bates — AKA: Anthony Perkins. Well that’s some awful twisty horror provenance, right?
The “basic” gist behind the Blackcoat’s Daughter involves two young ladies, well technically three, who, through a rather vague set of reasons are left behind at a boarding school that’s closing for a holiday season. But this isn’t your average boarding school for girls, oh no, it’s one that’s run by hairless, satan-worshiping nuns. Wow. Unfortunately, or by design you never see the hairless, satan-worshiping nuns.
The third young young lady, Joan, finds herself lost and confused at a bus stop in the middle of winter. Mr. Perkins unfolds a series of flashbacks regarding Joan, and again, vaguely, why she’s at said bus stop. Meanwhile back at the boarding school, one of the other young ladies, Kat, kinda goes nuts, stabs her weekend chaperones to death and then gets to some rather video-nasty kind of decapitating. The decapitating all comes to a close with a spooky utterance of the classic “Hail Satan.”
The gore is visceral, terrifying, and real. The sets, location, and mood are dark, foreboding, and filled to the brim with dread. But alas, the film glides by with few highs, few lows, flat dialogue, and pancake-like story that unfolds in a dreamy and contemplative way. It looks cool, but you never really get a chance to connect with any of the characters, put yourself in the film, and ultimately you’re left to envisage the story together. In the same way that you try to piece together your previous evening’s dreams, the Blackcoat’s Daughter leaves it all up to you to poke around in the darker and less precise rooms of your subconscious.
I really do appreciate the somber, quiet, and personally intimate tone of the film, but at some point good story-telling lets the viewing audience in on the story. This opaque series of vignettes never really let me be a part of the fun — and you never get to see the hairless, satan-worshiping nuns. So “boo” to that.