My favorite kind of movies, regardless of genre or tone, are movies that remind me of why I love movies. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those movies that inspires creativity and excites me to a point where I momentarily forget how meaningless life is. This is one of the most impressive movies A24 has produced and one of the more impressive movies I have seen in recent years.
I am hesitant to write about this movie in depth as I don’t feel like I have the vocabulary or writing skill to do it justice. This movie is written and directed by Oz Perkins, a man who has a short resume but superb storytelling skills. It stars three young actresses, Kiernan Shipka, Emma Roberts (We’re the Millers), and Lucy Boynton. All three are perfect for their roles and Shipka’s performance stands out as subtly complex (a hard task for an actress who was just 15 years old during the time of filming).
The two main supporting actors stole every scene they were in. James Remar (The Warriors, Dexter, Django Unchained) and Lauren Holly (the dream sequence involving her in Dumb and Dumber will forever be etched in my brain) contrasted well as a grieving married couple.
Before I get into spoilers, I wanted to bring up how smart, well-paced, and how this movie is the A24est movies of all time. This movie requires an action that has recently been lost on the constantly stimulated minds of society, undivided attention. The Blackcoat’s Daughter isn’t purposefully misleading, it gives the viewer all of the information and clues needed to understand what is going on without holding the viewers hand. Very subtle easy to miss shots are vital to this movie, so put the expensive phone down when watching.
I watched this movie twice last week, and I remember during my first viewing thinking this movies is a little slow. It is creepy as fuck and tense, but the first two acts felt too long. Then when the third act started (Kat’s act) it all made sense. On my second viewing when I noticed things that I missed the first time around, I realized this movie is paced perfectly. It gives you little bites of imagery and flashbacks to chew on in almost every scene allowing the viewer to take in everything that is going on while processing the underlying themes and ideas.
A24 is the shit and is creating the most original and creative movies right now. I have seen a majority of the A24 movies that I have an interest in (A Most Violent Year, Green Room, Ex Machina, Into the Forest, The Witch, Dark Places, Room, The Lobster, The Monster, and It Comes at Night). They all have a similar dark tone and thrilling feel to them, and I believe The Blackcoat’s Daughter is the best of all of them. It is the most tense, horrific, violent, and well-crafted A24 movie yet.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not driven by forced dialogue or intrusive exposition. It is driven by efficient flashbacks, small clues, and profound imagery.
Major plot points and some characterization are established through short flashbacks. Joan is the second girl to be introduced of the three and is first scene in a bathroom at a train station. As she looks into the bathroom mirror a flashback of her in a mental hospital taking pills and being carried away by nurses quickly passes the screen. She then rips a medical bracelet from her wrist. Like that, the back story of Joan has been presented, she has escaped from a mental hospital. Before exiting the bus station Joan uses a couple of quarters to attempt to make a call on a pay phone.
In the hotel shower after Bill gives her a ride, Joan takes off her shirt and see’s the bullet wound on her shoulder. This leads to a quick flashback of a distressed officer who shoots a rifle. In the hotel shower Joan looks at her feet which leads to a quick flashback to her feet at the end of a bathtub next to a shadowy figure.
Further along in the movie, more flashbacks reveal more information about Joan. Two extremely quick images of her strangling a woman with a belt and going through a wallet to look at a driver’s license with the name Joan Marsh. She isn’t really Joan, she assumed that identity after killing the woman.
Every one of these flash backs involving Joan are so well done. They slowly reveal over time that the Joan story arc is in present day and that the Rose and Kat story arc is in the past.
Small clues are provided by Oz Perkins to what is really going on in this movie. When Bill and Linda give Joan a ride, Joan notices a bouquet of flowers in the back seat and as the car pulls away, a panning shot of the back bumper reveals a Branford School bumper sticker. Later after a conversation with Bill in which he shows her a picture of his dead daughter, the image of the flowers and the bumper sticker connect to tell the viewer that Bill and Linda are going to the grave of their daughter Rose. I liked how Perkins didn’t immediately reveal that Bill and Linda are the parents of Rose but left little clues and hints along the way.
At the bus station when Joan attempts to make a phone call on a pay phone, a shot of her hand holding 2 quarters is shown. Later in the movie when Kat goes to make a call via the pay phone at the school, a shot of her hand holding 2 quarters with the same mannerisms is shown. That was the first clue that I noticed that shows Joan is actually Kat.
The first scene with dialogue in the movie shows Kat having a conversation with a priest who informs her that he will be gone for a while. When she hears this, Kat smiles to herself. This leads to the priest asking her if something amused her. After being shown the picture of Rose by Bill, Joan excuses herself to the bathroom and gives a similar grin and chuckle in the mirror. Another clue that Joan and Kat are the same person.
Rose and Kat were stuck at school for an extra day during winter break so they ate dinner with the two school nuns. Kat looks uninterested while Rose said grace which angered the Nuns. They then forced Kat to say grace, who obliged but was unable to finish due to vomiting. Vomiting while giving grace is a good clue that someone has been infested by the devil.
One of the common symbols for death is the color red, something that is used in several instances in this movies. The payphone at the end of the hallway at the school which is used by Kat to talk to the devil receives very little light. The hallway is almost always dark expect for the final light by the exit next to the pay phone which reveals a bright red floor.
After killing the two nuns, Kat walks up the stairs to retrieve a pillow case to hold the severed heads of the nuns. The carpet on the stars is a dark red.
This one might be a reach, but at the end of the movie when Joan asks Bill and Linda to pull over next to the shutdown Bramford school, a shot of the back of the car is shown. There isn’t a lot of color in the shot as it was at night time in wintery New England, so the red tail lights stood out on the screen. Joan then brutally kills and beheads Bill and Linda.
Early in the movie when Kat has her conversation with the priest, he tells her that he is sorry he will miss her performance. It is later revealed that she has a piano performance in front of the school and that was what the priest was referencing. But the small grin she gave during that conversation, and the murders she committed for the devil while he was gone exposed that her real performance was the killings, not the piano.
Who is the blackcoat? The movie begins with a scene of a burning car and ends with a quick glimpse of a blackcoat. This was a dream had by Kat which lead her to believe it was a sign that her parents had died in a car crash and that is the reason why they didn’t pick her up at school for break. The lyrics to the song that is playing during the opening moments of the movie are “deedle, deedle, blackcoat’s daughter. What was in the holy water? Gone to bed, on an unclean head. The angels, they forgot her.”
I am still unclear to what the dream or the song mean, but a dark force took over Kat and lead her to murder and decapitate 5 people.
At the end of the movie after the exorcism, Kat stares at the shadowy horned figure that left her. She says “don’t go” implying that she wants to be under its power and liked being under its influence. After killing Bill and Linda and bringing their heads to the boiler room where she had worshipped the devil earlier, she see’s nothing. The horned figure and the power of the devil was nowhere to be found. The movie ends with Kat crying in the empty street with the dried blood of Bill and Linda still on her face. Was she feeling the guilt of what she had just done or was she is despair over missing the presence of the horned figure?