Today was my choice for our daily horror movie, and I went for The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which was available to watch on Showtime. My reasons: It has Kiernan Shipka in it, who I love, and takes place in a Catholic boarding school. I’ve always been attracted to those boarding school settings that are perfect for witchcraft and covens. If I see a plaid skirt, I’m in. It’s been a dreary day in New York with lots of rain coming down from the remnants of Hurricane Ian. So with a Chinese food order on the way and my legs tucked under a leopard blanket, we started the movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRc_-iK3RVE
At an upstate New York Catholic boarding school called Bramford Academy, two girls are left during the start of winter break: Kat (Kiernan Shipka), a freshman who seems disconnected from most of her classmates and staff, and Rose (Lucy Boynton), an upperclassman who believes she is pregnant and has lied to her parents about when to pick her up.
Kat seems to have a vision about her parents dying in an accident and engages in increasingly odd behavior as the girls rattle around alone in the academy with only two older nuns to watch over them. At night, Rose hears moaning coming up through the heater vents, and when she goes down to the boiler room, she finds Kat prostrating herself in front of the furnace.
This sequence comes to an end with some disturbing contortions from Kat while sleeping, the kind I associate with demon possession. And then we cut to a new storyline where the subject switches to a third girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) who has escaped from a psychiatric hospital and is trying to put some distance between herself and it. There’s no indication whether this storyline is happening simultaneously with Kat and Rose’s or precedes or comes after it.
She’s picked up by a man named Bill and his wife in a creepy scene where I kept waiting for some sort of sexual overture to happen. Instead, Bill (James Remar) pays for Joan’s hotel room while they are on the road heading to a town that’s just past Bramford. And while visiting with her in her hotel room to get her story, he tells Joan that he believes God put her in his path. This all happens while Joan sits in a towel with a prominent puckered scar on her shoulder that matches another on her chest. Later, he shows her a picture of his daughter Rose, who’s now deceased.
There’s some more back and forth between the characters’ storylines, and the audience now knows that Kat and Rose’s story comes first. In the second section featuring Kat and Rose, Kat continues to be creepy. She tells Rose twice, “You smell pretty.” We see Kat’s calendar marked with winter break and then there’s a big heart drawn over February 14 earlier in the month. An alternate title for the movie is actually February, what I think of as the bleakest month in some parts of the United States. But the heart makes me think that maybe Kat was trying to flirt with Rose? I don’t know—there’s not much to work with here.
Through Kat’s perspective, the audience sees a black-horned shape that haunts her in nearly every scene. When she tries to call her family, she gets a disembodied voice telling her to kill everyone. The nuns, Rose, and Kat sit down for lunch, and Kat has a breakdown that ends in a murderous rampage. She turns up Ed Kemper–style in front of the furnace in the basement boiler room and is shot by a frightened cop.
After this, we’re back to Joan’s storyline, and going by the prominent bullet scar on her body, I’m guessing she’s supposed to be Kat. I’m not sure if the Joan section makes much sense to me. I can see similarities in the hair, but the two actresses appear to be around the same age so the difference in the timeline doesn’t gel for me. But I understand the impulse to try and tie the story up neatly. A lot of this movie left me cold, and I don’t think it was just the rainy day. I liked the puzzling little details that seemed to fit together neatly by the end of the movie, but I couldn’t really find much heart pumping the story along. This was the first feature film by director Oz Perkins, who comes from quite a horror pedigree as he’s the son of Anthony Perkins. He’s also directed I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and Gretel & Hansel. I quite liked the retelling of Gretel & Hansel; it was so atmospheric and gothic and real feminist horror, I thought. But I haven’t yet seen I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Maybe I’ll slate it for later in the month, on the days when I’m traveling. I like it that Perkins has chosen to do horror focusing on women’s stories and want to see how he further develops.