The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an original and unique take on the possession horror story, that deviates greatly from what we’ve become used to with the Exorcist style. A deeply slow burn that interweaves three different women’s stories with a great deal of success, making for an intense and unrelenting story that gives way to a well executed, if somewhat confusing, ending. – 4.1/5 (genre)
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a unique and unusual film, straying well outside what I’m used to seeing when perusing the horror sections. It is indeed a unique film in just about every genre it manages to tip-toe through, and I say that pointedly as it moves quite slowly right up until it doesn’t. Though it was said to be a horror movie (the genre label said so anyway) and a possession one at that, I wasn’t certain for the first 30 minutes, give or take, if it was either of those things. Admittedly, Kat is really pretty odd and just says downright strange things without much context, but otherwise it seems to be a watered down psychological horror. With all that said it may seem like I was less than impressed by this movie, but on the contrary I found it to be one of the most rewarding and sad stories I’ve seen in some time, and well worth making it to the end. The slow, slow burn is always moved along by an unseen but every present force which makes everything feel as though it’s moving exactly as it should. Though it’s very easy to get lost in the beginning trying to sort what this movie is really supposed to be, and end up missing things, if you can avoid that you will really experience one of the most unique possession (and first original in quite a while) stories put to film.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is actually about three primary characters. Katherine “Kat” (Kiernan Shipka), Rose (Lucy Boynton), and Joan (Emma Roberts). These characters aren’t introduced to us all at once but are given screen time in that order (don’t hold me to that Kat and Rose may be reversed). The story predominantly takes place in a Catholic private school in Bramford, focusing on Rose and Kat. A week long break is coming up and all the kids are going home with family, however Rose told her parents the break started on Friday instead of Wednesday (sounds right) and so will have to stay the school a couple extra days. Kat hasn’t heard from her parents and doesn’t know if they are coming to get her, to which the principle of the school tells her they’ll be there by Friday because “After all, we can’t let you live here.”.
The story heavily focuses on Rose for the first part, with Kat almost just lurking in the background, sometimes literally. Honestly, even before all the wackiness that happens to her Kat was a bit of a creepy girl, not necessarily in a bad way but you probably wouldn’t want to go out at night with her. Rose it turns out is late, and planned the extra time at the school to see her boyfriend to discuss it with him. Kat reminds Rose repeatedly that she is supposed to take care of her, as per the principles instructions, to which Rose only replies with flippant remarks and a wild story about devil worship that supposedly happened in the basement. Turns out that while the story may not have been true, it does seem to come true for Rose, as when she returns she finds Kat in the basement bowing repeatedly before the boiler. At this point it’s still a bit confusing exactly what is supposed to happening and I found my attention starting to wander a bit. If you do too, you only need hold on for a few more minutes before the relevance of all the preamble becomes clearer.
Joan is introduced to us separately, and in fact her story takes place entirely separate from the other two. She is trying to catch a bus out of the town she’s in when Bill (James Remar) sees her and offers her a ride with him and his wife who are on their way to Bramford. Joan’s story is the odd ball out, it just doesn’t seem to fit and I think this is where many of the comments I’ve seen from people about the story being too confusing were getting lost. The entirety of it is with Bill and his wife, either in their car or in a restaurant or hotel room (not what it sounds like). Bramford is the only thing that connects them. As all three stories progress, Kat becomes more and more unusual until we reach the part where nurse is trying to give her some medicine and she tells her “Don’t touch me c***.”, which is hugely shocking on its own given the preceding tone of the movie. From here events begin to unfold with some rapidity, though compared to most movies I’ve seen it’s still very even paced even as it builds intensity.
Kiernan Shipka as Kat was just a beautiful choice. Though I’ve yet to see her in anything else (except maybe Kimmy Schmidt) she is without a doubt a talented actor. She plays the part of the lonely, distracted, and even a little demented teenage girl with a skill that isn’t often seen. Deadpan lines that are very out of context, or seem like they should have some emotion behind them come out flat with little variation, making even a common place statement feel menacing. The sadness she manages to emote in the end is very heartfelt and made me feel very sorry for her, and a little sad, which given the circumstances surrounding the moment feels a bit off, but there it is, all courtesy of a good script and great actor. Lucy Boynton played Rose as well as anyone could play Rose, a rather self-centered/absorbed highschooler that really hits a lot of the general tropes we come to expect from a story involving a high school age girl. This may or may not be a statement on our societal expectations and film makers, and I tend to take it as a bit of an indictment even if it isn’t. Though the story does revolve around her for some time, it really isn’t about her (well it is but isn’t) and she becomes part of an ensemble and not a solo lead. Boynton’s acting is spot on for the character, and even some of her short caught reactions to Kat are very real and visceral, and don’t feel like they were standard movie type over the top reactions. Emma Robert’s role as Joan just doesn’t have much to it until we approach the end. She plays a reserved and secretive woman well, keeping everything close to the chest as it were, and delivers a performance that is convincing that something very horrible happened to her at some time in the past. In the end the emotion she’s required to show are good, but for connection to the audience I felt like it was lacking a bit in comparison to Shipka’s, making it hard to overlook. It was interesting seeing Remar in the role of Bill, as the last thing I say him in was The Shannara Chronicles, where he had a very different role to play.
The overall tone of the movie, and its pacing, set up a perfectly slow burn and intense movie. There are moments where the camera angles and character placement are perfect for jump scares, and things intensify until you’re tensed up for one and then it never comes, leaving you with an odd sensation. It was peculiar to realize, but because of the expectedness of jump scares in most horror movies it felt like I was unsatisfied, or longing for something, when they didn’t happen. It was fun to explore the idea of a movie with no jump scares that pretty much was perfect for all kinds of them. Scenes and angles are shot very well, giving one trepidation about a telephone or a simple meal with a group, where normally we’d have some relief. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is unrelenting in its suspense and epitomizes the long haul horror film, that just won’t let you go. The music was well done, but this is where one of my major complaints comes. Personally, once I start a movie the volume is set unless someone, hopefully not on screen, complains about it. But here I found moments where I just couldn’t hear what was being said even though they weren’t whispering or speaking softly and would turn up the volume only to have the music crescendo to the point my speakers were crackling. I’d turn it back down and then I couldn’t hear what was being said again, it was like my up and down volume was completely out of phase with the up and down sound of the movie. It does level out towards the middle of the movie and find a good place, but this really detracted from the movie. It made it nearly unwatchable for some parts, and in fact if I didn’t watch everything with closed caption on I would have missed nearly a quarter to half the dialogue early on. Unfortunately, something that glaring really overshadows what is an otherwise excellent film. The pacing, the patchwork of scenes for different characters all felt very seamless, and ran smoothly to the end point.
I’ve seen a lot of people reacting to this movie saying it makes no sense and that the end really had no point whatsoever. I can see how this might be a possible take on the movie, as it does tell its tale in a non-linear fashion to some extent, and uses subtle clues placed about to inform the viewer what’s to come. But by a little before mid-way I’d worked out the connection between characters, no astonishing feat as the movie nearly throws it at you, and you can kind of see where it’s going. Perhaps what is confusion is two-fold: How Joan’s story really has any part in Kat’s and Rose’s, and what the final scenes were implying (both Kat’s and Joan’s). While I don’t want to get into that here as it would be too many spoilers I can assure you the connection is there, and the ending does have a point to it, but if you happen to miss it I would say watch the credits until the Stand-ins section comes up and this might clear up some of the confusion. Also, the fact the same story is told from all three characters points of view reveals clues later, especially Kat’s story, giving enough info to put some of the pieces together. I’ll admit not easily but still doable. This is definitely a thinking horror movie.
There are some parts of the movie that just felt like they were too long. It spent far too much time on Rose’s pregnancy, considering this was literally a side story that had virtually nothing to do with the main focus of the movie. In fact I found little reason for it other than making Rose a more humanized character (not that she was Mean Girl’s detached to begin with), but really it should have resolved itself much faster than it did. Some of the scenes with Kat on her own early on just drag on a little longer than necessary to give the effect they are trying for, again like Rose’s parts just going a little farther than needed. One of my biggest issues with the movie were many of the adults. While they weren’t The Silenced over the top, many of them just seemed to be over emoting. The sister’s were decent in their role, but the headmaster (which I realize now I’ve been calling the principle but I’m too lazy to go back and edit) was just over the top and a little unbelievable, I mean “Sound good?”.
There is some gore in the movie though very little, and what is in it is necessary to progress the story and not gratuitous. There is a fair bit of stabbing, and it’s a bit disturbing when you see how much the perpetrator is getting satisfaction from it and you actually start to step into her shoes and feel it too. Step back, take a breath and tell yourself it’s just a movie. In an oddly funny moment that had nothing to do with the movie, when Kat picks up the phone and a soft deep voice says “Hello baby-girl.” the only thing I could think was “Cheese it! It’s the devil!”, in Bender’s voice of course. This resulted in laughter at a very serious point in the movie, but didn’t take away from the creep factor.
The ending…this is a toss up among different reviewers. I felt it was very well done, tied everything off for me and even left me feeling sad and lonely. Any ending that gives me strong emotions and a sense of some kind of closure is by definition a decent ending. The ending here is well worth the slow burn of the previous hour and twenty or so. [I realize a reiteration of a previous paragraph, but some independent points so not totally redundant]
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an original and unique take on the possession horror story, that deviates greatly from what we’ve become used to with the Exorcist style. A deeply slow burn that interweaves three different women’s stories with a great deal of success, making for an intense and unrelenting story that gives way to a well executed, if somewhat confusing, ending. Even if you dislike horror movies, possession movies, or even slow paced movies, The Blackcoat’s Daughter takes all of these things and a tired genre and breathes new life into it, somehow making us feel sad for a character that otherwise would normally be written off. This is a must see for horror genre fans, and a should see for everyone else, it demonstrates what’s really possible within the confines of horror films that often get passed over for gore-fests and little to no story.
Overall: 4.1/5 (genre)