Quick Hit: Enough moments to unnerve you, but loose plots sink ships.
As I continue to work my way through A24’s backlog, I’m still astounded with the studio. Some of the films they’ve greenlit, like Swiss Army Man, have absolutely no business being as good as they are. Some have become genre masterpieces in their own right, like Room or The VVItch. But one thing that nearly all of them have in common is their ability to tell a story in a way that someone may not have told it before. Sometimes that’s by telling a brand new story, sometimes it’s just framing it in a different way. In the case of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, it’s by taking an old story and making it visually compelling.
The story is boils down to two separate stories being told at the same time (of course they’re linked). In the first, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton of Sing Street) are left by their parents at their boarding school. In the parallel story, Joan (Emma Roberts of Nerve) is picked up by a man (James Remar of Dexter) and his wife. The stories are the weakest part – it’s easy to see how they link, and Oz Perkins, who both wrote and directed the film, consistently shows his cards with the story. Overall, the story itself has been told before – quite a few times actually. There’s also the fact that Perkins loses pieces of the story because he keeps popping away between the different plots he has going. Moments that should have greater importance (a character’s pregnancy) instead get lost in the shuffle.
However, I will say that the way that Perkins shoots the film at least makes it interesting. He shows his influences consistently – opening tracking shots indicative of The Shining, but he keeps the flow of the film going with his camera (for the most part), and that’s a good thing, because the story has the potential for multiple stalls. This is due to the didactic nature of the film, and just the stilted dialogue that must accompany what little action occurs.
And when that action occurs – oh baby. It’s violent and the colors nearly give you a Suspiria vibe (not nearly as much as something like a Berberian Sound Studio though). Honestly, there are parts that the sheer scope of the violence make even a horror movie veteran like me severely uncomfortable. When you pair the moments of intense violence with the moments of witches and Satanism, it starts to get really scary. I know there were several moments where I jumped, even if the scares were telegraphed a bit.
Much of the terror comes from Shipka, who is immediately recognized as different. She plays the role really well, allowing a ghost of a smile to say more than the dialogue could ever allow her to – I’m rather excited she was cast in the recent Sabrina remake. Boynton doesn’t quite hold her own against her, with some moments that just seem a bit too full of teenage angst. Roberts, who is probably the most overlooked in the story, does a fairly good job when she’s allowed to do more than stare at nothing.
So are there some weak points? Sure, enough to knock it down to make this a slightly above average film. But I also was sufficiently creeped out, so take that as you will. I’m giving it a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"