We reviewed Oz Perkins’ second opus, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, earlier this month, and its was so good it made one eager to see his first, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (also for some reason titled February in some markets), a little bit concerned, too, that it wouldn’t be that good. Well, if it weren’t for a more liberal use of gore, this movie is a perfect companion piece for its predecessor. Perkins has a unique eye, a Lynchean ear for soundscape and a voice of his own. From his debut as a director (he was a screenwriter and yes, an actor to begin with), his peculiar brand of malaise and dread conquers the screen. From his first scene and his first dialogue, really, all diffuse awkwardness and suffocating framing. An author is born and so far his œuvre is impeccable.
The plot oscillates between three college girls during a bitterly cold winter break. All students are gone to their family but Kate and Rose, whose parents have been delayed or worse. Completing the triangle is Joan (Emma Roberts, brooding and fast becoming a regular in this blog), hitchicking her way from the hospital she woke up in to the city near the school, relying on the kindness of stranger to horrific consequences. Being her senior, Rose is tasked to keep an eye on Kate, as only a skeleton crew of two nuns remains on the premises.
Rose (Lucy Boynton, playing the ghost in Pretty Thing, here with dark hair and a meatier role) is pregnant but don’t want her boyfriend to have anything to do with terminating the pregnancy. She considers Kate’s minding a chore so she enjoy scaring her with stories of the nuns being bald and worshipping Satan in the basement. The idea is ill-advised, as Kate (Kiernan Shipka, Don Draper’s daughter in Mad Men, impressive playing the part of a black hole) is seriously unhinged and spooky to a rare degree: “They’re not coming, they’re dead.”, she flatly says out of the blue. Is she asserting herself the mean way teenagers do, did she have a vision of sorts? Why is she suddenly obsessed by the school principal, to the point of wanting nothing more than living with him at the school?
After a meticulous build-up of dense atmosphere, something happens to Kate when she’s alone in her room. That thing is utterly shocking and defies the laws of Nature: we have entered the realm of possession. Kate receives a phone call from the unknown and she starts seing a dark silhouette lurking in corners. “You smell pretty”, she says Rose, conveying a sense of menace close to inspire panic in the viewer.
Meanwhile, Joan has accepted food and shelter from a good Samaritan (James Remar, making very uneasy to believe in goodwill). She reminds him of his lost daughter. The guy’s wife (Lauren Holly, making the best of two scenes inside a car) has another, much scarier version of the story. “It’s strange, I can’t see you at all.” she tells Joan, in one of those terrifying moments Perkins seems to be able to summon out of thin air. The weather takes a turn for the worse, forecasting the merciless way plot is about to unfold, or rather to fold upon itself, not leaving any hope for anyone involved.
Two of the girls will die, one in a remarkably effective way, reminding both Psycho and some of the cruellest of Argento’s murder pieces. After the police’s intervention, the third will remain in the school, her bloody offerings displayed in the basement’s boiler room. You know as well as one does that going down to the basement is never a good idea. This movie will make you wish you never have to get into any boiler room. One mentioned gore, rest assured it is kept at a low level. The gore is never what makes a movie frightening. But that car scene and that boiler room, they are straight from hell. Viewing a must.