THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER EXPLAINED
a review by the Crow.
Warning: This will be long.
After coming across the lovely /r/horrorreviewed subreddit (which The Corvid Review has already staked as one of our many home-grounds away from home), I was immediately recommended The Blackcoat’s Daughter. And I’ve spent a good while since I watched it trying to piece it all out.
This is the movie, explained:
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a movie that has had a strange and troubled release history. Here’s what the summary of its troubles on the Wiki states:
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015. Shortly after, A24 Films and DirecTV Cinema acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film. The Canadian distribution rights were then acquired by ABMO Films. The film had its U.S. premiere at the Fantastic Fest on September 24, 2015. In November 2015, it was announced that the film had sold to various international territories at the AFM including the U.K, France, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Poland, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The film was re-titled from February to The Blackcoat’s Daughter. The film was scheduled to be released DirecTV Cinema on July 14, 2016. But was pushed back to August 25, 2016, before opening in a limited release on September 30. The film was then pulled from the scheduled and pushed back to an undisclosed 2017 date.
Now, you might remember the name A24 FIlms as the same company who distributed Green Room earlier this year (e: 2016).
With a trailer dropping for a (hopefully) wide release of the movie recently, what better time than now to cut ahead and take a look at this odd gem of horror cinema?
On my first viewing, I must say I quite liked the movie. But there was something about it that necessitated a second viewing. This is a movie that throws out questions which seem to warrant explanations, and there seem to be few full explanations out there on the net (that I’ve found, anyway); and so, I’m going to present to you my personal – unadulterated – take on the movie.
For those of you who’ve not watched the movie, I’ll leave the “Plot” section spoiler-free; and the analysis will effectively be a full-spoiler section (I’ll leave a click-skip to the next section for those of you who don’t want to be spoiled).
As for the “Characters” section that occasionally appears on our reviews, I’ll instead be talking about the “Actors” involved (apt; considering I’ve not seen most of the people in this movie ever before) in the “Execution” section.
So, without waiting for the snow to pile up, let this crow take you under his blackwing and tell you all about this movie.
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SOME [MINOR] SPOILERS
The movie opens with an interesting establishing scene: we see Kat (Kiernan Shipka) asleep, having dreams of walking out into the snowy “outside”, her fingers twitching in bed as she approaches a mangled car (an unknown figure in a black coat walking alongside her). She says: “Mommy…?” and the scene cuts to black.
It’s revealed that Kat stays at a Catholic girls’ boarding school, and is waiting on her parents to arrive and pick her up for an upcoming holiday. She visits Father Brien (one of the heads of the school), and they share a short conversation. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those movies which handles certain key scenes a bit too subtly; and this scene, in particular, is one I’d like to draw people’s attention to. The first time I watched it, it was late, and I wasn’t really running at full speed. I’d completely missed all the little touches going on, here.
Rose (Lucy Boynton) is another girl stuck at the school; only she is there by choice. She is afraid she might be pregnant by her secret boyfriend, and has told her own parents that the holidays begin later. The two girls are left to two chaperones – two stern-looking nun-types, since both Father Brien and the headmaster Mr Gordon will be leaving the school as well. They fail to adequately bond, and it’s when the two girls are left alone in the school for the following few days, that (for lack of a better word:) sinister things begin to happen.
The movie skips around with time a little, and following the story so far, we enter the second plot-line. But, for the sake of keeping this review a little more clear than the movie itself on a sleepy-night first viewing, I’ll stick to this first plot-line a little longer.
Following a night out with her secret boyfriend, during which Rose reveals to him she might be pregnant, Rose returns to the school. During her short absence, Kat has been through her things (against Rose’s instructions), and presumably picked up the payphone ringing in the hallway.
When Rose returns, there is no sign of Kat. However, once in the bathroom, she hears strange sounds coming through the heaters. She (like a child who’s never seen a horror movie in her life), heads down to the boiler room to check.
And what does she see? Kat vigorously prostrating herself over and over again to the boiler (see the header image).
In the second plot-line, we follow Joan (Emma Roberts) as she makes her way towards Bramford (where the school is), stopping at a bus station on the way. Bill (James Remar!) stops by her and offers her a lift. Immediately, he comes off as a nice guy; almost too nice to be true, and Joan tells him she’s headed to the next town over from Bramford.
She travels with them until they reach a hotel, where she catches some sleep. Waking up, she takes a shower, during which we start seeing the first of our “flashbacks”. I won’t go into too much detail about these flashbacks, but on a first viewing, they carry hints of her past (especially when matched with the scar we see on either side of her left shoulder).
Bill intrudes upon her (and I use that word pointedly). While the man has nothing but good intentions, his intrusion upon her post-shower is almost creepy, especially during the bits where he talks about religion with her while she’s in nothing but a towel. He invites her to an early breakfast at a close-by restaurant. While there, he shows her a photo of the person he’s mentioned she reminds him of: his daughter.
This kicks off an interesting revelation, and from there, both of our plot-lines are destined to a collision course that runs us to the climax of the movie.
ANALYSIS AND EXPLANATION
FULL PLOT SPOILERS
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
This was going to be a really, really long section; but since it’s been over a month since I first drafted it, I realised I should probably hold back on some parts here and there. This won’t be a 100% explanation, but it will still explain what the movie is trying to be.
Remember that interesting establishing sequence I mentioned? Let’s break it down play-by-play. When we first see Kat, before her dreaming, this is how she’s sleeping:
Notice her hands. What do they look like they’re doing? Looks like the hands of someone praying, don’t they? After a shot of the snowy “outside”, we cut to her on her side, one arm (her right) over the edge of the bed, and someone passes between her and the camera. The twitching begins, and she gets up to look at this person. She says: “Daddy, you came early.”
When she steps outside, the scene cuts between her wandering into the open space, her sleeping with her hands changing position, and her walking alongside this person who’d come into her room (wearing a black coat and scarf). Finally, she is shown the mangled car (see the image above). She says: “Mommy…?” and the scene cuts to black.
Why am I going over the scene in such detail? The answer is: I think it’s an incredible opening sequence. A lot of what happens in the movie is summarised in this first minute and a half. As I continue with this analysis, those clues will come to light.
Just some time later, Kat goes and sees Father Brien. During this scene, she keeps looking off to the side, and she eventually smiles in the direction, which picks at Father Brien’s interest. The connection Kat has to Father Brien is hinted at as being special, somehow. And I propose that this short moment of her smiling off to the side hints at one very important detail of the movie’s plot.
I could go over each scene like this; but hey: I’m not writing a book. Now that I’ve covered what I think are the two most important scenes to unravelling the movie’s secrets, let’s go over what the movie’s trying to be.
This is a movie after fathers and daughters, yes. However, it is also a movie about Christianity (and by extension: Atheism), mental-illness, and finally: it is a movie about shifting loyalty.
To be very blunt: this is a movie about a girl (Kat) starting off from a very conservative background (she cannot check her “cellular phone” when Mr Gordon asks her if she’s checked it, because she’s waiting until her next birthday), and becoming “seduced” by the devil.
That seems pretty simple, but the movie doesn’t stop there. She has foreknowledge that her parents are dead, as shown to her by the man who takes her out to see the mangled car (her “dad”). This man has been in contact with her for some time, appearing to Kat as if her father (or accepted by Kat as her father). This is the same man – I propose – who is standing behind Rose, looking at Kat, when Rose is trying to scare Kat with stories of how the nuns at the school are actually devil worshippers before she leaves to meet with her boyfriend early in the movie (pictured below; look in the corner).
Hey! It’s a giant bunny-wabbit!
But no. It isn’t at all. No. Not one bit. Nope. Nada. That is no bunny rabbit. Now: say you take a man, wearing a heavy black coat, a scarf around his neck, and presumably a hood or hat of some form. Then, you focus onto something in the foreground so that it blurs out. Now, he’d look a bit of a blob too, wouldn’t he? I guess I don’t have to explain much about the “ears”, then. Ears, those are not.
This, I say, is the same person speaking to Kat over the phone on occasion. This is the stereotypical depiction of demons (and the devil himself). In a way, Kat is coming to the realisation that the person she calls “daddy” in her dreams is Satan himself (or one of his ilk).
From here, we have two options: One: this is about full-blown mental illness. Kat is just broken (the flashes of the mental institute we see now-and-again serve as definitive proof that she is considered severely mentally ill); and Two: this is about a child falling prey to the wiles of the left hand path (and I therefore wonder if the first position we see her hands in after she’s in “prayer” whilst asleep is all that accidental).
The only clue that points to the reality being the second option is the foreknowledge Kat has of her parents’ death. However, this can be answered! Near the beginning, we see Kat leaving a message to her dad (her real one) over the phone about his upcoming visit. Her so-called “foreknowledge” can therefore be chalked up to supposition following her hallucinations.
Rose exists only to serve as a contrast to Kat. She is a rebellious girl who ends up staying on the straight path, and even becomes more comfortable with the awkwardness of the nuns as Kat deteriorates. Every little detail in the movie serves to show Kat’s descent into insanity. When she goes into Rose’s room, the first thing she does is check her brush for hair. This immediately follows Rose’s story of how the nuns are devil-worshippers and have no real hair on their bodies. Her expression following this tells us a lot about her mental state.
In the end, the “rampage” Kat goes on is justified in her disappointment in Rose and the nuns for not being what she has supposed them to be – worshippers of her “father’s ilk” – and therefore, they must be offered as lambs to him.
During her “exorcism” by Father Brien, she looks to the rabbity-figure and whsipers: “Don’t go.”. But the figure turns and leaves her. And after this scene (when she finds it next), the boiler has gone out.
And just look at the man she’s accepted as her father in his appearance during the exorcism scene:
To conclude: This is a movie about mental illness. No more. And it’s a very good one at that. While it’s not the best movie in the world, and I pushed myself to find meaning in it, what I’ve found has been nothing short of amazing. A little caveat I’d like to mention is that Mr Gordon (who I’ve been calling “Mr G” until I looked the movie up to help me conclude this review on this second drafting) can be seen as an allegory for the Christian god. Usually, the “good guys” in these conflicts are quite useless, and Mr Gordon and Father Brien are adequately so.
The final scenes showing Kat’s reaction to being (to her) abandoned by her father, despite her multiple offerings to him to buy herself into love; and her reaction (to us) at having both lost all semblance of sanity, and taken a hit to her faith.
With that, I hope I’ve managed to present the truth of the movie to you without much fuss (despite being so long-winded). I’ve left out key spoilers for those of you who might have not seen the movie, but for those of you who have, I’m sure I’ve left all you need to know in.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter could certainly have been edited better. It’s not too bad, but it’s a touch messy. The movie, while amazingly subtle for the keen-eyed repeat viewer, isn’t going to draw in new audiences as effectively, and will leave people with questions they might not care enough to look for the answers for.
I initially (following my second viewing; when the first draft of this review was written) thought this might be a movie steeped only towards the religious reading of it. And that’s no problem as long as the universe the movie exists in agrees with it. On my latest, third, viewing, I realise that there’s a further level to it (analysing a movie always brings the best out of it, I find), and am actually moving my rating for this movie up a whole point thanks to it.
Far as the actors go, the men (Bill, Mr Gordon, and Father Brien) are all quite good in their roles, and the supporting cast do their jobs well. As far as our main three actresses go, they are each amazing in their parts.
Kiernan Shipka as Kat steals the show. It might just be good directing, but every nuanced motion she performs has a point to it. I’ve never seen her ever before, and I’m honestly blown away. Lucy Boynton and Emma Roberts are both just as good, but don’t quite steal the show like she does.
A bit more emphasis on which plot-line we’re following would also have been nice for the benefit of first time viewers.
The movie’s twist (if it can be called such) is quite nice, but I instantly knew what it would be within minutes of the second plotline’s introduction. I think, however, that it’s fine as it is. It’s important to point out here that the movie doesn’t rely on the twist; just as it doesn’t rely on jump-scares.
I counted maybe four moments in the movie which qualify as jump-scares, and only one that really has any real punch. And I love it. The movie – thanks to its lack of reliance on the twist and shock-value – works in the vein of terror, which is by far the superior sibling when compared to horror. It’s far from perfect, but by heck is this one of the best efforts I’ve seen in some time.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is Oz Perkins’ (the son of the late, great, Anthony “Norman Bates” Perkins) directorial debut, and is also written by him. Elvis Perkins, his brother, also serves in the movie to provide the music (a complete surprise when the credits rolled). The two have made another movie (for Netflix, nonetheless) in 2016, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a fine movie. It comes highly recommended far as I’m concerned, but maybe it’s not for the casual viewer if they come across it without any clue as to what it is.
I’m very happy I was recommended this movie (and a little surprised I stuck through with it), and I credit those who told me so much about it as well. Again: hopefully I’ve cleared up some of the confusion regarding the movie to you, and I’d like to know what your thoughts on the movie were. If you have a different take on what unfolds in the movie, please let me know in the comments, I’d be highly interested to know how you viewed it!
And now, for the final rating: