The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Oz Perkins’ debut film, is a tense and twisting psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end.
Director Oz Perkins, son of actor Anthony Perkins (yes, Norman Bates), seems to have really been inspired by his father’s most famous role. What makes Psycho such an enduring horror classic is the pervasive slow burn that keeps his cards close to its chest that by the final act you’re still left guessing. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Perkins’ debut film as a director has the same quality. It’s Hitchcockian in style, however, the thrills are doused in dread to create a surprisingly effective horror movie.
Kiernan Shipka, fresh off a successful run on Mad Men, plays Kat, a quiet girl living at a Catholic boarding school in Upstate New York. At the beginning of the film, she experiences a dream of her father in a black coat showing her their family car destroyed. She wakes up on the day that her parents are meant to arrive, however the fail to show up. Rose (Lucy Boynton, from Sing Street) tells the school’s headmaster that she told her parents the wrong date to pick here up. This leaves the two girls alone with two odd female teachers in the dark and snowy environment of the school. Elsewhere, a mysterious girl, Joan (Emma Roberts), hitches a ride with a couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly) to an unknown destination.
The dark passages of the Bramford, the school where the film takes place, are beautifully captured by cinematography Julie Kirkwood. She uses the natural shadows of the space to unnerve you and question what’s coming around the next corner. The oppressive score, composed by the director’s brother Elvis, makes every conversation as tense as an eerie trip down a dark hallway. It’s that kind of relentless dread that makes the movie such an effective horror.
The payoff, in the end, isn’t quite as satisfying as the rest of the movie would suggest. If there were just another ten minutes dedicated to fleshing out the lore of the story, it would work. However, what does sell it are the performances, particularly by Shipka and Roberts. Perkins draws a lot of inspiration from horror and psychological thrillers past. But he doesn’t imitate. His visual style is classic, but serves the story and the setting well. For any filmmaker, that is the main task. I’m sure he made his father proud.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is streaming for free on Amazon Prime Video!