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Review – ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ Takes a Class in the Devil’s Arithmetic

By  · Published on March 30th, 2017

‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ Takes a Class in the Devil’s Arithmetic

Three girls, one night of terror.

High school is an awkward time for most teenagers, but young Kat (Kiernan Shipka) seems especially put off by its mundane norms and cruelties. She’s slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of her peers, and as the campus of her remote all girls’ Catholic school empties out for winter break she finds herself stuck there for a few extra days. Her parents are going to be late picking her up, and she’s left in the company of two adults – sisters in Christ who help run the school and keep the girls in line – and a fellow student named Rose (Lucy Boynton). She’s older but not all that wiser, and after warning Kat about the devil-worshiping “sisters” and how they supposedly don’t have body hair she sneaks out to meet a boyfriend.

Isolation and despair swirl around Kat as the snow-blanketed school grounds and empty halls call to her with darkness. As the night ticks on it becomes clear that she might just be willing to answer.

Writer/director Oz Perkins delivers an absolute mood-piece with the chilling and atmospheric The Blackcoat’s Daughter. The setting is established early with dreamy fragments and visuals forcing a coldness to emanate from the screen both through the wintry landscape and Kat’s detached and lost behavior. She’s at risk from both herself and the pitch-black presence attempting to take her in its embrace. Her only hope rests in someone who may be the closest thing she’s ever known to a true friend, but will it be Rose or someone – something – else?

A second storyline works through the film as well involving another teen named Joan (Emma Roberts) who we first meet far away removing a hospital wristband in a dirty bathroom. A stranger (James Remar) sees her at bus station and offers her a lift. His kindness is suspicious, and even his wife is unsure of the offer, but Joan agrees to accompany the couple on their road trip to a small town… the same town where Kat and Rose are experiencing a night of terror.

This thread offers it own share of suspense and drama, but Perkins tips his hand a bit too early in regard to how it will eventually connect with the events back at the school. The two come together for an ending that delivers on the film’s growing darkness, but some of the narrative impact may be lost to those ahead of the curve. That said, even knowing or suspecting what’s coming doesn’t lessen the satisfaction for genre fans of its final frames.

While Perkins’ methodical pace and hauntingly attractive frames (credit to cinematographer Julie Kirkwood) work to create an enticing intersection between beauty and unease the cast is equally to thank for pulling viewers into this icy nightmare. Roberts revels in the mystery of her character offering teases as to her purpose while Remar’s “aww shucks” demeanor sees our suspicion grow.

Shipka in particular evokes an emotional distance that leaves us simultaneously worried for and about her. She’s a girl at risk, but her performance has viewers wavering between sympathy and fear. Boynton is similarly appealing but through opposite means. She’s lost in her own way but no weaker for it, and the two of them become the shifting focus of our attention as it becomes clear that the night will end in bloodshed and screams.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (previously known as February during its festival run) is a slow burn that won’t be for all tastes, but genre fans who appreciate atmosphere, dread, and the encroaching darkness will appreciate and enjoy its icy grip.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter opens On Demand and in limited theatrical release tomorrow.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.