One must make sure to be in the mood for an Oz Perkins film. It will be a slow-burn, scantily-scored, economically-timed piece of celluloid with richly complex characters navigating mysterious and perilous territory. By the end, it’s going to haunt you whether you liked the movie or not.
I’ve seen Perkins’ catalogue in reverse order: first the minimalist Netflix Original I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. He’s remained a pleasant curiosity since I was a dumb uni kid thinking his character was odd-dorably relatable in Legally Blonde, and when I knew that he played a younger version of his father’s character in the Psycho series. I’ve always had a strange curiosity for the offspring of incredibly famous actors from the last century – whether they resemble them in appearance or career choices, or public personae (after a handful of clicks, I stumbled across the Facebook profile of Vincent Price’s great-great-grandaughter).
February, then (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) was a movie that was getting enough buzz online and at festivals, but only ended up with a VOD distribution over a year and a half after it premiered – despite being produced by powerhouse production company A24, keeper of some titles you, idk, may or may not have heard of (Room, Spring Breakers, Amy, Moonlight, The VVitch). Odd, given Perkins’ pedigree.
The story nicely befits Perkins’ trademark slow-burn: two girls waiting for their parents to collect them from boarding school find themselves in the presence of, well…something not quite right. Rose (a coquettish Neve Campbell lookalike from her Scream days, played by Lucy Boynton) has deliberately delayed her parents’ arrival so that she can tell her boyfriend she’s getting an abortion. The much younger, shy, meek Kat (a compelling Kiernan Shipka), is so wholesome she doesn’t even have a cellphone, and instead perfects her puritanical habits of inoffensive piano-playing and sculpting impossibly perfect twin french braids. She’d probably make a great architect. Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly and the always-welcome James Remar do some great work in a parallel storyline.
Without spoiling it, the plot progresses pretty quickly, despite many scenes in which very little appears to happen beyond slice-of-life character studies of these two girls. Some sequences are needlessly repeated to plug the gaps in the film’s attempt at cyclical/interlocking storytelling, but on balance, it doesn’t detract. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn’t find myself scared but rather unnerved – or chilled. Perkins has a way of hiding unsettling elements in the foreground; it’s enough to linger after viewing and make you wonder if, in the slow-burn, safe ordinariness of your own life, that maybe something this otherworldly horrifying could happen to you, too.