Labelled horror but more akin to a slow-paced psychological thriller instead, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, directed by Osgood Perkins, is a movie about two students, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), who are left behind at their boarding school, waiting for their parents who have failed to arrive to take them home for their break. We also follow another character, Joan (Emma Roberts), who is seen making her way towards Bramford with no explanation given of her relevance to the story, establishing an unnerving presence in the progression of the narration all the same. A simple tale with an exceeding potential to play out in multiple ways, the movie unfolds with abrupt leaps and with little happening through its 95-minute runtime.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter relies heavily on its eerie soundtrack and talented actors to elevate the movie up from its somewhat flat script. The majority of the film is made up of close, angled headshots that catch every shift in the actor’s expressions, with rarely more than two characters on screen at any given point, playing off each other to cause the tension to build and fold with ease. We see the characters in reflections, from backseats, and often observe them from behind others on screen, shifting our perspective with every adjustment of the camera, moving between well-crafted settings fashioned to allow for the discomfort of every conversation to settle in. It is this detail that develops the movie more than any other, where we are constantly left feeling like there might be something just out of our line of sight, some element we missed that the character experienced without us.
The movie’s non-linear structure is an interesting choice, but it does little for the film other than prolonging the suspense, creating a sense of confusion more than curiosity. Moving back and forth in time, we’re slowly exposed to details in measured doses, a creative attempt at keeping the viewer engaged despite the lack of too many nightmarish happenings. Even the moments of terror that do arise on occasion, spark a greater fear of innate insanity than they do the fear of the devil. The movie doesn’t invest too much in marking this distinction either, never lingering on the possible presence of something ‘evil’ for too long. The characters, while well-portrayed by those playing them, appear insufficiently developed and seem unable to leave any significant impact despite their misfortune. While the film ends its conclusively gruesome narration on a morose, lonely note, there is little emotion left to drive the impact of that loneliness home.
Having watched ‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in this House’ before I watched this one, I was looking forward to the uneasy horror of minimal jumpscares paired with an optimal level of grief that the other movie had laid out, but as much as I wanted to like this film, other than appreciating the acting and aesthetic, I found myself left wanting more. A good study for those interested in well-placed cinematography and a necessary exploration of horror that is not necessarily about haunted homes, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a well-made movie that while an engaging watch, could really have been so much more.
Title: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)
Director: Osgood Perkins
Runtime: 95 min