The Horror Honeys: 'The Blackcoat’s Daughter' is a Modern Gothic Masterpiece

'The Blackcoat’s Daughter' is a Modern Gothic Masterpiece

A New Release Review with Addison Peacock

The Blackcoat's Daughter (2017)

Photos courtesy of A24
The Blackcoat’s Daughter, written and directed by Oz Perkins (I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House), officially released on March 31st, 2017 in a limited release and through video on demand. The film, which stars Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, and Kiernan Shipka, is a muted, strange picture of the gothic and ethereal, which should come as no surprise to fans of Oz Perkins’ other work. Much like I am the Pretty Thing, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a female-driven film that is more mystery soaked in frightening elements that it is pure horror, and its character (though somewhat modern) feel as though they have been ripped from the pages of a Bronte sisters novel.

The film will not be for everyone, and viewers seeking a more traditional horror experience may want to opt for a different choice. However, the film makes excellent use of surreal imagery, nonlinear storytelling, and a careful, creeping sense of unease that permeates the entire story. The Blackcoat’s Daughter promises an unconventional horror experience, and it certainly delivers. As so much of the film’s excellence is wrapped up in the gradually unfolding mystery of the plot, this review will be certified spoiler-free.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is centered around the intersecting lives of three young women. Kat, played by Kiernan Shipka, is a quiet, reserved girl with a talent for music. Rose, portrayed by Lucy Boynton, is an energetic, outgoing girl with a lust for life and a rebellious streak. The two of them are forced to spend time together when they remain on the campus of their Catholic boarding school over their winter break, each stranded for reasons that they either do not know or do not wish to disclose. Meanwhile, Joan (Emma Roberts) is a desperate young woman, exhausted and out on her own, doing anything she can to reach a destination that is quite unclear. The three characters, and the actresses bringing them to life, paint three distinct and human portraits of young womanhood, ranging from freedom and sexuality, to quiet rage, to grief and strength.

Fans of Kiernan Shipka will recognize her usual magnetic quality, and will appreciate the incredible subtlety she brings to Kat. Lucy Boynton is radiant and lovely, making Rose a perfect counterpart to Kat’s subdued presence. In a lot of ways, Emma Roberts gives the most surprising performance of the film. While the other actresses give excellent performances, Emma Roberts stands out the most by departing so severely from the sort of role she normally plays. Emma Roberts is often associated with her roles on American Horror Story and Scream Queens. In those roles, she is polished, sexy, a bottle-blonde primadonna. Here, she is sympathetic, vulnerable, and brings an intense, raw quality to Joan that makes watching her as heartbreaking at it is difficult to look away.

The film’s appearance manages to be simultaneously pleasing to the eye and extremely menacing. The color palette is stark, with almost no bright colors to be found anywhere. The girls are dressed in neutrals and dark colors, and we are treated to several shots that use this costuming choice to showcase the contrast between light and dark. We often see the schoolgirls from a distance: their dark uniforms stand out against the snowy ground, while the black gnarled trees stand out against the gray winter sky. The resulting effect is visually cold, going beyond the presence of snow on the ground to remind us that this is truly a bitter winter.

The most masterful aspect of The Blackcoat’s Daughter is the excruciatingly slow reveal of the film’s horror elements, and the delicate creeping dread that punctuates even the most mundane of scenes. Oz Perkins uses stillness to incredible effect, invoking a sense of tension and unease in the simplest of things. A conversation with a teacher, a school picture, a piano performance; each of these moments takes its time so deliberately that the viewer finds themselves analyzing every expression, every frame, certain that there must be a clue that they are missing. The mystery at the heart of the film’s story is presented like a beautiful, delicately wrapped present. Each piece of new information peels back a layer of wrapping paper, revealing just a bit at a time until the final tear brings the entire horrible truth to light. Even then, at the film’s conclusion, the audience is left with unanswered questions, with loose ends that are never to be tied up.

In a modern horror landscape where audiences can feel condescended to, manipulated, and attacked with excessive gore and shock value, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a refreshing surprise. This is a modern twist on gothic fiction. While these characters have cell phones and cars, the storytelling elements of the film would not feel out of place in a story of Edgar Allen Poe’s or Emily Bronte’s. This is a film that refuses to spoon-feed its audience. It trusts the audience to pay attention and pick up on every subtle hint of what is to come. The result is an engaging horror experience that is unwilling to let us rest for even a moment, even at the action onscreen appears to have come to a complete stop. As previously stated, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not for everyone. However, if you have felt tired of a passive viewing experience, if you want your horror films to make you work a little bit, and if you’re craving a modern film that somehow feels like a historical gothic gem? It is definitely for you.

The Blackcoat's Daughter is available via On Demand, iTunes, YouTube VOD, Google Play, Vudu, & Amazon Instant Video