A remote snowy, Northeastern Catholic boarding school, schoolgirls forgotten by their parents over spring break and a sinister presence are the promising ingredients of “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” a horror thriller concocted by one of the sons of Anthony “Psycho” Perkins and scored by another.
It’s a triumph of tone over content, chills over frights, an under-lit and cryptic tease that never quite measures up to the gloom of its production and the heft of its cast.
Kiernan Shipka of “Mad Men” and Lucy Boynton are Kat (Katherine, to her teachers) and Rose, an underclasswoman and senior stuck at Branford, in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire (Ontario, actually).
When Mom and Dad don’t show for her turn in the talent show, Kat is “concerned.”
Rose, with plans to get busy with a local boy that night, is more upset at an opportunity lost. Instead, she’s charged with “looking after” Kat, and takes it out on the kid by filling her head with sordid stories of Satanic rites involving nuns, myths about what’s REALLY hidden under that habit.
Writer-director Osgood Perkins gives each of the girls her own chapter heading — “Kat” and “Rose.” And when he switches the setting, there’s a chapter about “Joan.” She’s played by Emma Roberts.
Joan is making her way from Branford to Portsmouth when a man sees her at a frigid bus stop and takes pity on her.
“I just want to help.”
As the man is played by veteran movie heavy James Remar, we fear the worst. But he’s traveling with his testy wife (Lauren Holly). And there’s this story about the daughter Joan reminds him of, a story the wife is quick to undercut.
There’s a phone call home to the parents, a call answered with a scratchy signal and unearthly voice. Knives are introduced as foreshadowing, and the creepy solitude of all the settings is emphasized, along with the gathering darkness.
First-time writer-‘director Osgood Perkins, who never quite made it as an actor, gave us a superior indie thriller (“Cold Comes the Night”) in his first time out as a screenwriter (co-writer). Here, he’s determined to hide his striking starlets’ faces in shadows, hint at Catholic Problems (demonic possession) and let his brother Elvis Perkins fill the soundtrack with properly chilling minor chords until those moments he flings unmotivated violence at us.
“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” — an illusion to a priest’s cassock? — never amounts to much more than its tone, the dread Perkins summons up with morose faces, shadows and music. It’s unconventional for a genre picture. But then, those conventions — motivation, anticipation, empathy and shocks — became conventions because they work. This doesn’t. Not really.
MPAA Rating:R for brutal bloody violence and brief strong language
Credits: Written and directed by Oz Perkins. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:34