When I finished The Blackcoat's Daughter (titled February in some parts of the world), I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I was sure February was a bad title. I was sure that Lucy Boynton was a good actress, that Emma Roberts was fantastic working outside her comfort zone, and that Kiernan Shipka owned the whole movie with her performance (what would have been a star-making turn for someone not already so visible in projects like "Mad Men" and "The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina"). I was sure that it was atmospheric, dissonant, desolate... What I was unsure of was how I really felt about it. It's a feeling you see on many of the character's faces. Boynton's Rose makes expressions over the course of the movie that perfectly echo those of the audience: confused and unsure.
It's not a quick movie, that's for sure. Not that it plods along, but it more than takes its time, tells the story out of order, and dwells on moments of strangeness and tension instead of rushing to explain the plot. Really, I'm not sure writer/director Oz Perkins does the best job of telling the story itself. It could partially be the sound mix, quiet moments often being drowned out by his brother's noisy (but very appropriate) experimental score, dialogue being eaten by an inconsistent volume on my end. Some motivations initially felt unclear as I watched it.
The palette of the film is dark, colorless, and gritty, the setting is isolating and cold, and the actors strained, tense, and unnerving. But some of the tension I imagine others might have felt was undercut by the fact that I saw many of the movie's surprises coming from early on. The twists were well-done from a film-making standpoint, but they were predictable in their own way, which didn't bother me and I was more focused on trying to see how the pieces fit together than waiting to discover those pieces in the first place. I wasn't ever looking at it as a supernatural film, which I can only guess was intended, and was instead viewing it as a psychological thriller.
One of the real head-scratchers is the amount of confusion about the plot and ending. While I'll admit it's not spelling things out for you, the amount of general confusion and inability to follow the characters' motivations is more on the stupidity of the average viewer than the movie itself. It doesn't spell everything out for the viewer, but it seems like most people literally need everything spelled out to actually understand anything anymore. While that dumbshittedness probably drags estimation of the film down, I can imagine many will find the tone too slow and bleak for their liking. I'm looking for interesting stories; I imagine most people are looking for predictable scares and, when they don't find them exactly where they expected, they assume the film isn't good. Which it is. It's a dramatic showcase for several fantastic young actresses. It gets to play with some dark themes about delusion and mental illness through a lens clouded by red herrings about demons and possession. But it also has moments that don't feel like they stand up perfectly to scrutiny.
But all of it keeps me interested in what Oz Perkins tried to accomplish. I've seen several movies lately that make me immediately want to follow it up with a thorough talk with the director about intent, motivations, and choices, and this film sits firmly in that group. As a writer, I'd love to see the original script and how it portrayed all these details in the reader's mind versus what ended up on screen. And I'm sure I'll be watching his follow up I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House soon.
So, getting back to my initial quandary, I think I like the film more as I've thought about it since finishing it. It was solidly watchable but it's something you'll want to mull over afterward. For me, I think it does a better job of utilizing the coldness, the isolation, the confusion, and the paranoia more than something like The Lodge. And maybe one of the reasons it does it better is because it's more open-ended and leaves more to the viewer, something I don't usually appreciate out of storytelling. Regardless, it's a well-crafted tale that makes you feel cold and alone, whether it's winter or not.