The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a moody, melancholy possession movie directed by Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House) and starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, and Kiernan Shipka. We’ve seen a renaissance of high-quality horror lately, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter has especially clear ambitions–not higher than those of its fellows, necessarily, but narrower and more difficult to achieve. Perkins almost makes this heady combination of fright and arthouse tropes work, and if he falls short, he at least falls short in interesting ways.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter takes a number of high-toned approaches–slightly closed-off performances, a chilly atmosphere, a lack of explanation, a lot of timeline juggling–and they have some impact, especially when Perkins uses them to serve the story and its themes rather than just emphasize the style. Shipka’s sense of remove, for example, works incredibly well for her character, a girl so devastatingly lonely and emotionally isolated that she believes a demon is better than nothing. (What works less well is how alien and isolated everyone seems, even when we’re not in Shipka’s character’s POV; Lucy Boynton is wasted here.) But it’s that loneliness, deftly and achingly conveyed, that is the real emotional centerpiece of the film and its real, lingering legacy. Perkins reaches past the horror of possession to find the horror of a life that would prefer it. At its best, it suggests an awful, fatalistic underbelly to other horror films, and asks what happens to someone who tries to sell their soul without a buyer.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is streaming for free on Amazon Prime.