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Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is stuck at her abandoned boarding school when her parents fail to pick her up in “The Blackcoat’s Daughter.” | A24

Temps low, tensions high in chilling ‘Blackcoat’s Daughter’

SHARE Temps low, tensions high in chilling ‘Blackcoat’s Daughter’
SHARE Temps low, tensions high in chilling ‘Blackcoat’s Daughter’

“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” is a horror movie that’s been sitting on the shelf for a while and used to have a different title (“February”) — typical signs of a stinker, particularly in this genre.

What a happy surprise, then, that Osgood Perkins’ feature debut as a writer and director is so creepy, so atmospheric and so scary.

Perkins, son of Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson, doesn’t force his hand. The film gets gory toward the end, and as with most horror films, the climax isn’t as satisfying as the build-up. But Perkins builds layer after layer of dread, so that when an explosion finally occurs, it’s almost a twisted relief. He shows a lot of patience for a first-time director. Let’s hope the audience stays with him throughout.

Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) wind up having to stay at their Catholic boarding school while other students go home for winter break. Kat, a freshman, has had a nightmare that her father picked her up early and walked her out to a destroyed car; presumably her mother is inside. After she wakes up, her parents don’t arrive to pick her up, and no one can reach them by phone.

Rose, meanwhile, thinks she’s pregnant, and purposely gives her parents the wrong pick-up date so that she can sort things out with the presumed father. She’s an upperclassman told to keep an eye on Kat. Instead she sneaks out to talk to the guy, but not before telling Kat the “sisters” (two women who stay over break and serve as school nurses) have no hair on their bodies and worship the devil.

A deserted boarding school in the dead of winter is creepy enough. But soon strange things begin happening (the less you know going in, the better).

Meanwhile, miles away, Joan (Emma Roberts) is working her way toward the school. She has flashbacks of being a patient in some sort of facility. The ID bracelet she tears off lets us know she probably didn’t leave of her own volition.

Joan is waiting for a bus when a man named Bill (James Remar, terrific) offers to give her a ride to get her out of the freezing cold. His wife (Lauren Holly) isn’t happy about it, and it’s hard to discern Bill’s motives. What is Joan’s role in all this?

All in good time.

Perkins’ brother Elvis provides the score, and it’s used judiciously to help build tension. Perkins and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood maximize the barren, snowy landscape — it just feels cold. And the acting suits the material. Shipka is probably the best of the bunch, saying little. But when she speaks, it’s notable, and worth waiting for.

You could say the same for the film, an auspicious debut for Perkins, who’s off to a good start

Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network

★★★

A24 presents a film written and directed by Osgood Perkins. Rated R (for brutal bloody violence and brief stronglanguage). Running time: 95 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC South Barrington.

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