Directed by: Oz Perkins
Distributed by: A24, DirecTV Cinema
Written by Jeff Sparks
“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” is a 2015 film written and directed by Osgood Perkins that stars Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka along with Lucy Boynton and James Remar. The film utilizes a nonlinear format to tell the story of Shipka as Kat, a student at a Catholic school who is consumed with overwhelming messages of devil worship when she fears her parents have been killed in a car accident when they don’t arrive to pick her up at school. Meanwhile, Emma Roberts plays Joan, a mysterious woman who is hitchhiking to a nearby town. Taking place in the dead of winter in February, the cinematography sets up the darkness of the film by making every scene simply look cold. A dark color palette combined with shots of snow falling, barren trees with a cold wind blowing, and gray skies with no sun in sight give off the sense that nothing good is going to happen within the story. Also adding to the ominous feeling is the unsettling score by Perkin’s brother Elvis, whose sound design here can be compared to the likes of the work done by Mica Levi in “Under The Skin”.
It is difficult to pick whether Shipka’s eerie performance or Roberts’s chilling demeanor is more valuable to the film, but I found Roberts’s work to be the standout display of acting throughout. Speaking very few lines of dialogue she uses her facial expressions and body language to make her presence felt in every scene she’s in. With bags under her eyes and rumpled hair, she is given a ride by a concerned man named Bill when he finds her shivering in the cold outside a bus station. Bill’s wife isn’t so keen on the kind gesture as we see Roberts lean into the mystery of her character, giving off the sense of stranger danger that keeps the viewer wary of her and her actions throughout the runtime.
Throughout the film, the scenes cut back and forth between Kat and her schoolmate Rose alone at the school during winter break along with Joan traveling to the same town with Bill and his wife. Eventually, the mystery of Joan’s identity is revealed to be an escaped serial killer from a mental institution. Soon it can be deciphered that Joan and Kat are the same character as we see Kat kill her classmate and two teachers before using all three of their decapitated heads in a satanic ritual. During these scenes, Perkins employs realistic violence that comes seemingly out of nowhere which creates some of the most shocking scenes put to film in 2015.
Now with Robert’s being much older than Shipka, we realize that her timeline in the story is taking place nine years later. After finding out the couple she is traveling with are the parents of her slain schoolmate she begins to giggle, sneaking sadistic glances at them. After killing them with her preferred weapon, a kitchen knife, she takes their heads to the furnace from the basement of the school where she enacted the same ritual nine years earlier. In these scenes, she is using the devil to fill the gap that was left in her by the disappearance of her parents. Based on Perkin’s comments on how he made the film about grief it can also be assumed the ritual is meant to be the way depression can consume an individual in the time of loss. Joan is enacting the ritual again because the feeling has left her and she needs it back to fill the void that is in her. The final shot of the film is of Roberts crying in a snow-covered street. Is she crying because the devil hasn’t come back to her, or because it has?
“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” Trailer
“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” is on Kanopy and VOD.