Girls’ Boarding School and Demonic Possession? Where do I sign up?
In all seriousness, every horror fan has their sub-genres that they’re particularly passionate about. Boarding school stories just happen to be WAY UP THERE for me. Demonic possessions are also a fave, and something I love talking about (I’m not weird, you’re weird). So when I found out that I had somehow missed The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a boarding school horror movie featuring demons and my girl Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men and Sabrina fame, I ran to Netflix to watch this movie ASAP.
What follows are my (non-spoilery) opinions on the movie.
So basic premise here: my girl Kiernan plays Katherine (or Kat), a young freshman at the Bramford school who seems to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of her parents so that they can see her sing/play piano and then take her home for break… which is, according to the calendar at the beginning of the movie, in February? What is this, Mardi Gras break? In New England? Mysteries abound!
The only thing is… her parents don’t come to get her.
Another girl at the boarding school is also stranded there. Rose (Lucy Boynton) told her parents the wrong day to come get her, so they aren’t there either. The headmaster tells the upperclassman Rose to look after little Kat. But does Rose listen? No. She’s got to go meet up with her boyfriend who may or may not have gotten her pregnant.
It kind of makes you wonder… what if Rose had just stayed at home and looked after Kat like the headmaster asked her to? Women’s sexuality getting them in trouble yet again. Tsk tsk.
Anyhow, while this is going on, we also have a side quest. Joan (Emma Roberts) has just broken out of some sort of mental facility and is on the run. At some point, Joan and Rose and Kat’s stories will intersect. And yes, that demonic possession is coming, but I can’t really get into any of that without major spoilers, so just trust.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter, as you can tell, is juggling a lot of balls, some more effectively than others. Overall, the horror elements in this story are handled really well. For a demonic possession film, this movie is much more subtle than what I think we’re used to seeing. Unlike something like, say, The Exorcist, which deals in shocking imagery and language, The Blackcoat’s Daughter only has a few standout shocking images and only one use of the word “cunt,” which, for a demon, is pretty tame.
Also, unlike most demonic possession movies, the exorcism does not really play a major role in the movie. For that reason, I don’t really think it’s a big deal to spoil it. The priest sprinkles a little holy water, the possessed girl floats a little bit, and then the demon leaves. What’s more surprising, I think, is what happens AFTER the exorcism, and that’s the part that really sticks with me and is left open to interpretation. Just to illustrate my point, Jordan Crucchiola over at Vulture definitely saw this ending differently than I did.
But I think it’s good that the ending can be interpreted in different ways. What’s most important in this ending is the way it resonates with you emotionally. There is despair and loneliness felt here, and that’s the important part. How you arrive there is a bit more Choose Your Own Adventure.
I will say this for the ending: it had me returning back to the first ten minutes of the movie to reexamine my perception of that opening scene. The movie starts with a dream sequence that, honestly, I didn’t watch too closely because in more heavy handed films, we would have returned to those images again and again. But in this movie, we really didn’t at all, so I had to go back and make sure I remembered what I saw.
While a lot of the violence and the more supernatural elements happen off camera, that is not to say this movie isn’t violent at all. On the contrary, there is a lot of blood and death. So if that’s what you came for, you won’t be disappointed.
There are, however, some things about this movie that I found disappointing. Most notably, aside from the exorcism and what follows after the exorcism, the actual possession story is pretty standard. I have mentioned in previous blogs that demonic possessions usually happen to young girls who are coming to terms with their sexuality in one way or another.
Possession stories are often problematic in this way because they seem to reinforce the status quo about young women and sexuality. For a woman to be sexual, at all, is to be sexually deviant. Female sexuality is to be feared and controlled. A woman is an empty vessel, meaning a woman can be easily manipulated and turned evil. You can deny it all you want, but whenever a female body is possessed on screen, these types of misinformed beliefs about women are being reinforced. That is, unless the movie chooses to critique that image. Without spoiling anything, I don’t think The Blackcoat’s Daughter is interested in turning those ideas on their heads at all.
With that being said, I did find that overall the good in this movie outweighed the bad. For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter worked best as a meditation on loneliness and melancholy. And somehow it did that without being boring, unlike director Osgood Perkins’ second film I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House which was so boring it was basically unwatchable. Sorry not sorry if you love that movie.
Anyway, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is now available on Netflix, and I highly recommend watching it. I mean, seriously. Boarding schools and demonic possession. What can go wrong?
See you for more Spooktober next week! Our countdown is nearly at its end.