US | 2015 | Directed by Osgood Perkins
Logline: At a boarding school during winter break, an evil presence reveals itself, while an older teenager is left to chaperone a disturbed younger girl, another mysterious girl makes her return.
The son of the legendary actor Anthony Perkins makes his auspicious feature debut, directing his own screenplay, and pulls a charcoal bunny from a coal black hat. It’s a tenebrous spectre, abandoned as a child, raised by the dark. A curiously sensual and immensely atmospheric movie that tackles Satanism and desperate loneliness, by grabbing the goat by the horns, and providing the True Believers one of the most satisfying, and original horror films for many moons.
Katherine (Kiernan Shipka) is a junior at an all girls’ Catholic boarding school in a small upstate New York township called Bramford. It is February, and a day before her parents are due to arrive to hear her perform at the school recital for school break. But her parents have been delayed. Rose (Lucy Boynton), a senior, is also waiting for her parents. The headmaster instructs Rose to look after Kat until her parents arrive, but Rose has other plans to rendezvous with her boyfriend whom she suspects has got her pregnant. A dejected Kat is left to her own devices in an otherwise empty school.
A girl (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric) arrives at a bus station in a nearby town. She tears off a hospital bracelet. Whilst waiting in the cold for another bus she is approached by a man (James Remar) who offers her a ride with his wife. She tells him her name is Joan. His name is Bill, and his wife is Linda (Lauren Holly). Bill seems nice, but Linda appears put out. Joan doesn’t say much.
Re-titled as The Blackcoat’s Daughter in the US, and given a much-delayed international release, February is one of those slow-burn gems that glistens in the night time like a beacon from an alternate reality. Very much influenced by the gorgeous nightmares of David Lynch, but also of the wonderfully slippery, fluid textures of the European horror movies of late 70s and early 80s. February is beautifully shot by Julie Kirkwood, masterfully edited by Brian Ufberg, and succinctly scored by Elvis Perkins (Oz’s younger brother), whilst Osgood Perkins’ command of mise-en-scene is consummate.
The acting of the three young women is excellent, it’s impossible to single out one performance, they’re all brilliantly cast, each adding their own nuances and style. As beautiful as Boynton is, and as haunted as Roberts’ looks, it is Shipka’s face that lingers in the mind, a unsettling mix of child and adult, of innocence corrupt, serenity ruined.
The complex and clever narrative structure of February is what provides the movie with much of its resonant dream-like fabric, as well as the lingering of shots, the careful use of slow motion, and in particular, the Lynchian stylistic of presenting something ordinary, routine-like, that in the context of the movie’s bigger picture becomes weighted with a dark, ominous tone.
The three girls each have their own chapter; first “Rose”, then “Joan”, and finally “Kat”. We see moments played again from different perspectives, adding intrigue, creating tension and suspense. Just where in the timeline of events does each scene actually sit? Eventually the black cat is let out of the bag, and it screeches like a banshee.
February may not be to all tastes, as it is very much a deep, brooding mood piece, and though it is violent and bloody in places, much of the graphic horror is left to the imagination, an altogether darker place than any movie screen. However, Perkins has managed to shine a light on the darker corners of his own mind, and it is a real pleasure to have him share his nightmarish conjuring. I was lucky to see February on the big screen at the Sitges Film Festival in October 2015, and after finally getting to watch it again I can confirm its place amongst my all-time favourite horror movies.