Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
We realize early on in “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” that something terrible is going to happen. From the word “go,” writer / director Osgood Perkins (son of Psycho’s Anthony Perkins) fills us with a sense of dread, yet somehow manages to also pique our curiosity; a tragedy is about to rock the girls’ school at the center of this 2015 horror movie, and we are more than willing to sit patiently and watch it play out.
It’s the end of February, which means it is break time for the students at Bramford Academy, an all-girls Catholic boarding school situated in Upstate New York. During the course of the day, most of the young ladies are picked up by their parents and head home to enjoy their week-long vacation. But when the last car pulls away, it’s discovered that Rose (Lucy Boynton) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) have been left behind.
The headmaster, Mr. Gordon (Peter James Haworth), is unable to contact the girls’ parents and assumes they are either on their way or got the dates mixed up. So, until their families arrive, Rose and Kat will have to remain at Bramford, where Miss Drake (Heather Tod Mitchell) and Miss Prescott (Elana Krausz), a pair of nuns who reside at the school full-time, will look after them.
But their parents aren’t coming; Rose told her father and mother the wrong date so that she could break the news to her boyfriend Rick (Peter Grey) that she’s pregnant. As for Kat, she had a vivid dream in which her parents were killed in a car accident, and she is convinced they are no longer alive. Fortunately for her, Kat has made a new “friend” at Bramford, an invisible entity that whispers in her ear, possesses her body and her mind, and makes her do some very, very bad things.
Meanwhile, miles away, a girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) climbs off a bus and is soon after approached by the kindly Bill (James Remar), who offers to give her a ride. Bill tells Joan that he and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) travel to the New York area every year around this time, and he would be more than happy to take her wherever she wants to go. Joan says she is heading to Portsmouth, but to get there the three will have to pass through Bramford…
By following two storylines, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” along with its more horrific elements, proved to be a fairly perplexing mystery. Throughout the movie, we wonder how (and if) these two separate tales are going to intersect, and if Joan is connected in any way to either Kat or Rose. Perkins does eventually fill in some of the blanks (one major twist is revealed a bit earlier than it should have been), but as with any good mystery, he doesn’t lay his last card on the table until the very end (and trust me when I tell you, that final surprise is a doozy!)
All three of the film’s young leads are excellent in their respective roles. Though her character remains an enigma through much of the movie, Emma Roberts still manages to make us care about the clearly disturbed Joan (we’re led to believe she’s escaped from a mental facility); and while Lucy Boynton’s Rose starts out as a typical, self-obsessed teenager (ignoring Mr. Gordon’s instructions, she leaves Kat by herself one night to visit her boyfriend), she soon realizes that something is very wrong with her young schoolmate and becomes genuinely concerned for Kat’s well-being.
The standout performance, however, is delivered by Kiernan Shipka, whose character has made a pact with a demon. We sense in her very first scene that Kat can see things others cannot (while meeting with the school’s resident priest, played by Greg Ellwand, Kat glances out the window and smiles as if acknowledging a friend, despite the fact nobody is there), and her behavior becomes more erratic as the film progresses.
At times an inquisitive teenager (she is intrigued when Rose repeats a rumor that Miss Drake and Miss Prescott were spotted one evening performing a satanic ritual), Kat is also the most frightening character in the film, a young girl who not only befriended an evil spirit, but happily invited it to take over her body. Though only 15 at the time, Shipka gives a performance in “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” that would make an actress with 20+ years experience green with envy.
All this, as well as the film’s wintry setting (while the weather itself doesn’t figure prominently in the story, there’s a general feeling of isolation that goes hand-in-hand with a snowy landscape), some fine music (provided by Elvis Perkins, Osgood’s brother), and several truly shocking scenes work in unison to make “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” one of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year.
In fact, I’ll make a prediction: when we finally close the books on 2017, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” is going to rank high on my Top 10 list. Take it to the bank.
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