Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Osgood Perkins’ debut feature, February, hit the festival circuit in 2015 to strong reviews, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the film was actually released. It opened in February under a new title and racked up more positive coverage (including my own review), and now it’s available on Blu-ray/DVD. It’s a creepy little gem that takes its time building atmosphere and dread before unleashing hell, and I highly recommend a pick-up.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
Commentator: Osgood Perkins (writer/director)
1. He’s always been a big fan of the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans. “There was something the simpleness of the drawings, the simplicity of the drawings, and the weird sort of cadence of the writing that always made me so kind of crazy in the best possible way.” He points out Kat (Kiernan Shipka) at the 1:30 mark being dressed as Madeline. The last line of his screenplay mirrors the ending of Madeline with “and that’s all there is.”
2. Many of the interiors are lit solely by the light coming in the window.
3. They shot the film in an agricultural college in Ottawa “on the decline.”
4. Kat’s meeting with the head priest features an empty chair beside her. “I borrowed it — stole it — from Roman Polanski, from Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s the idea of “who’s not pictured.”
5. “I hope you have a fun time in Albany” is Perkins’ favorite line of dialogue he’s written, “in my sweet young life.”
6. People have commented that Rose’s (Lucy Boynton) first appearance reminds them of Twin Peaks. He assumes they mean Sherilyn Fenn’s portrayal of Audrey. “Maybe it’s her haircut.”
7. Boynton used the photo that’s taken for her character’s school portrait when submitting for a rail pass in London.
8. That’s fake brick at the 8:53 mark. “It’s the fakest brick you ever saw. It looks good here, but I promise you it’s foam.”
9. Kat’s piano song was written by Perkins’ brother, Elvis, who also scored the film. He sent the music and a recording to Shipka and didn’t hear her perform it until the day of filming.
10. He doesn’t recall approving Kat’s hair style or even having a conversation about it. “Kiernan just showed up with this hair, and it was the most perfect thing. It has this unbelievably reptilian look to it.”
11. He enjoys the student legend of the “hairless, satanic, lesbian” sisters, and finds it to be fun misdirect.
12. The fake snow is “actually Parmesan cheese” because it’s cheaper. I don’t fully believe this one in part because no one is sticking their tongues out to gobble it up.
13. Joan’s (Emma Roberts) first appearance sees her moving quickly through the frame, and while his preference was for viewers to be unclear as to who it is — to the point that he didn’t want her to turn around and look back towards the camera — he was out-voted. “You’re not making a movie by yourself.”
14. Famed editor Walter Murch (Ghost, The Talented Mr. Ripley) described film directors as “the immune system of the movie” in that they choose what’s good or bad for the film.
15. That’s Picket Fences‘ Lauren Holly in the car with Bill (James Remar).
16. The moment that comes in many commentaries hits here around the 23:34 mark as he verbalizes his assumption that anyone listening to the commentary has probably watched the movie already.
17. The bit where Rose sees Kat bowing before the basement furnace was repeatedly called out by script-readers as disturbing, and he’s thrilled that they pulled it off onscreen.
18. He does not regret the brown motel towels.
19. The shot of Joan from behind and from the bare back/shoulders up is a favorite of his. “In the first cut of the movie that shot was much longer, and everybody but me said yeah it’s too long.”
20. He instructed the crew early on that Rose was going to have a “special blue” that he wanted to pop in various scenes, and he proceeds to point it out throughout the film from bathroom tiles to baby seats in a restaurant.
21. It’s clear by the film’s ending that a connection exists between Joan and Kat, but his explanation doesn’t quite match up with my interpretation as a viewer. For me, the two girls are bonded by the demonic presence that spent time with them, one that rode them to carnage before leaving them to their grief for other pastures, but Perkins refers to the girls as the same person — as in Kat/Shipka grew up into Joan/Roberts. I don’t see how that works with two completely different actors who look nothing alike and are only a handful of years apart in visible age. (Shipka and Roberts are nine years apart in real life, but still.) Don’t tell him, but I’m sticking with my interpretation.
22. Some of the bloodletting was filmed in a local’s house, and his crew cleaned it up good as new after production. The homeowner surprised him on the last day of filming and told him they had found a single drop of blood in the basement next to their washing machine. Perkins apologized profusely and promised to send folks over to clean it, but the man said no. He instead told his family to leave it exactly as it is “so we’ll always remember.”
23. They built a devil costume with the intention of showing it but instead chose to shoot only a reflection and an out of focus piece.
24. The voice of the devil on the phone with Kat is done by Paul Jasmin who was also one of the three people who voiced Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho.
25. They had demonic prosthetics for Shipka to wear, but after doing some tests with it he decided to scrap the makeup and let Shipka be Shipka. She asked why and he replied it was “because you are just too good. You’re a thousand times more interesting than any prosthetic is ever gonna be.”
26. The end flashback to Kat’s time in the hospital as a psych prisoner visited by a priest is meant to show that the devil has left her, and that feeds the tragedy of Joan’s (aka adult Kat’s if you’re into that take) desperate attempt to return into the devil’s graces.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“You either like character title cards or you don’t like character title cards. Guess which one I am.”
“It’s hard to make extras look like people.”
“I’m always gonna get ‘oh your dad was in Psycho.'”
“Had a nice double contortionist come in and do that.”
“Go ahead Perkins, you can say ‘cunt.'”
“That’s pretty good.”
Buy The Blackcoat’s Daughter on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
Perkins debut is an unsettling and highly atmospheric horror chiller that builds tension, dread, and mystery before cutting loose with the bloody terror. His commentary offers a mix of anecdotes, observations, and explanations, and while I’m choosing to disagree on one interpretation — and yes I know that’s silly seeing as he’s the writer — the end effect remains a successful genre debut that offers visceral thrills and emotional weight. Recommended.
Related Topics: Commentary Commentary