To mark Women in Horror Month I decided to focus on possibly one of the most overlooked horror movies of recent years that really is deserving of far more recognition.

Having discovered this neglected gem from A24 (“Hereditary“, “Midsommar“) last year when it screened on late night TV Osgood Perkins (“Gretel & Hansel“), son of Anthony Perkins, has become one of my favourite film-makers. With “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (aka “February“), his first feature film, he signalled his intent to bring something different to the horror genre.

Starring Emma Roberts, Shernan Kipka, Lucy Boynton, and Lauren Holly, we follow two story threads. Catholic schoolgirls, Kat (Shipka) and Rose (Boynton), get left behind at their boarding school over winter break as the other girls leave. Meanwhile, Joan (Roberts) a disturbed young woman is on a determined trip to the same school.

First and foremost the most striking aspects are a brooding atmosphere, intensified by Elvis Perkins’ haunting, unsettling music, and the winter setting of a snow covered backdrop that is almost a character within itself. These are beautifully combined with a focus on well developed, plausible female characters, at times bringing to mind David Lynch, particularly “Twin Peaks“. That being said, this subtle reference did not appear to be a conscious choice on Perkins’ part. This lends a melancholic, dreamlike quality to the narrative that reflects the characters’ psyches and psychological isolation.

Nonetheless, while impressive, it would be all for nothing without the exceptional cast who each give perfectly pitched characterisations of surprising depth for a 90 minute genre movie. Headed up by Roberts’ nuanced, complex character, arguably one of her very best performances. Kipka, now more well known for “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina“, showed herself to be a far more accomplished actress well beyond her 15 years of age she was during filming. Boyton rounds out the main cast, understatedly depicting a well rounded character, especially given her limited screen time. Stellar support is in the form of the always reliable Lauren Holly and James Remar (“Dexter“).

Unpredictability and gut-wrenching shocks aplenty make “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” best approached with little or no prior knowledge. One that, not unsurprisingly, plays out very differently on a second viewing.

For those wanting more than a perfunctory, ghost train horror I really cannot recommend Perkins’ confident debut enough.

One of my favourite contemporary  horror films from amongst the most exciting new writer/directors in genre cinema today. Starring three of the most compelling young actresses of the modern era.

Karl Franks