Movie Review: February/The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

February/The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

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Cast:

  • Lucy Boynton as Rose.
  • Kiernan Shipka, as Kat
  • Emma Roberts, as Joan
  • James Remar, as Bill
  • Lauren Holly, as Linda
  • Emma Holzer, as Lizzy

Director: Osgood Perkins (the son of Anthony Perkins – yes, Norman Bates himself)

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No spoilers:

Boarding schools are ripe for demonic possession and dastardly plots in general, given the potent mix of hormones, schoolgirl-age jealousies and extreme isolation. ‘February’ takes that scenario one step further, as we follow young ‘Kat’ during a lonely winter break at ‘The Bramford School’. We also also follow the story of ‘Rose’, who’s hitchhiking through the snow with a kindly older couple. As Kat’s unease grows worse during the break, and Joan’s paranoia increases, it’s well worth holding on to learn how these stories converge and how it all links back to the sinister forces lurking in the chilly, semi-abandoned school.

Making a big positive out of its low key vibe, February (also known as The Blackcoat’s Daughter) steadfastly refuses to rush towards its most shocking moments, preferring instead to chill you with endless views of untouched white snow, then glorying in the pitch dark shadows within the frigid school’s buildings. With a muted, groaning soundtrack designed to stimulate unease (but, sorry guys, on the first watch it nearly sent me to sleep) calling this movie ‘bleak’ would be an understatement. It’s dark yet pale and it’s deeply unhappy, and that’s just the schoolgirls. It has surprisingly sympathetic adults too, who are simply unable to comprehend the true darkness at hand.

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And oh boy, is there a lot of darkness, in the film and the plot. Expect no primary colours from this at all, just austere shades of bright white and municipal blues, though it has dodged the grimy greenish horror filter that a lot of genre films used to favour. It does make the inevitable splashes of scarlet blood pop from the screen, which works well, and hopefully you’re still watching by then.

So  even if I prefer little more warmth and glee in my horror movies, I really want to love this film more than I do, and there is plenty to appreciate. The ending’s gut punch resolution is definitely worth hanging on for, and requires some attention to the subtle clues and a spot of emotional empathy to really figure out – why the fuck did she even do that? Recommended, if you want a low key, creepy horror. In fact, February has kind of grown on me. So if you give it a try, just remember that it saves most of its boldest moves for last. Worth sticking with.

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With Spoilers:

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Movie Review: Veronica (2017)

Veronica (2017)

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Cast

  • Sandra Escacena as Verónica
  • Bruna González as Lucía
  • Claudia Placer as Irene
  • Iván Chavero as Antoñito
  • Ana Torrent as Ana
  • Consuelo Trujillo as Hermana Muerte
  • Sonia Almarcha
  • Maru Valduvielso
  • Leticia Dolera
  • Ángela Fabián as Rosa
  • Carla Sampra
  • Samuel Romero

Director: Paco Plaza

Spoiler free review

Yes, this ‘Verónica ‘ is the one set at the Catholic School in early 1990s Spain, instead of a remote cabin in Spain. It can be confusing as they were both released in the same year, and both on Netflix with identical names, but the one we’re discussing right now is the one (very very) loosely based on the first ‘paranormal’ Police report where inexplicable events were officially recorded as ‘fact’. Which, OK, gives it a little more weight than most ‘true’ horror films.

Reality or not, this is an effectively told story of madness and possible possession. The titular Verónica is a schoolgirl tasked with, mostly, raising her little brother and sister alone while their mother has to work. Then she and her friends perform a seance in the school basement during an (always ominous) solar eclipse, and from then on everything about Veronica’s reality gets called into question. Her life gradually falls apart. Strange stains and scary figures start to appear in the family’s tiny apartment, and a creepy blind nun seems to know more than first appears. Has Veronica caught the notice of a ghastly demonic influence? Or is it something more mundane? The original police report certainly lent towards the former…so what really happened to this schoolgirl?

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Clearly an ‘Event Horizon’ fan…

Well, it’s still a horror film, though genre fans’ tolerance may vary, as we spend a lot of time following this schoolgirl’s quite humdrum life. She’s a mother to her little siblings, dealing with with wet bed sheets, trying to do homework, and still grieving for her dead father (hence the Ouija experiment). The very domestic angle and naturalistic acting is needed and grounds the threat, so the corrupting evil is even more of a violation. Verónica’s increasing vulnerability is vital as she’s pushed by her responsibilities into increasingly resentful isolation. Losing control is one of the scariest things in the world, and the film uses this fear to pummel you with unease, while Verónica struggles hard to keep a grip on her sanity. But there will be no sanctuary in her bed, or anywhere else within their dingy apartment. Something terrible is coming for them all.

Capturing the terror of a teenager well out of her depth, the film is incredibly well crafted and looks gorgeous. Shadows and coloured lights are perfectly used, and the soundtrack is beautiful; soaring electronic eeriness gets mixed with the odd early-1990s rock injection. The atmosphere is often chilling, and although Verónica was marketed as the most terrifying film ever, if you’re not frightened by much, then you probably won’t be too frightened by any of it for long. But that’s a shame. This is a scary, rewarding story of madness and repression, and it conjures up some very fresh and often brilliantly unsettling imagery. Even if you think you’ve seen it all before, there’s still plenty to be afraid of and enjoy. Oh, and seriously, kids and teenagers, please stop messing with those damn Ouija boards. It almost never ends well…

Spoilers below:

 

I really enjoyed this and found the tall, terrifying demonic entity that haunts Veronica to be perfectly monstrous. It’s not constantly going ‘boo’ but its shadowy appearance is more than enough to tip anyone over the edge. With a similar feel to the Babadook – is it all in her head? – the reveal that sends Veronica to her doom is the perfect payoff to the tension. I feel bad for everyone in the original case, but it has inspired a gorgeous movie steeped in religious superstition. If you don’t like the kids, then you probably won’t like the movie, but I found the child actors to be very endearing and incredibly believable. If the story is somewhat over familiar, it pays mild homage at best and does great things with it. There’s a moment that’s very much like the attack on Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters, which may or may not raise a smile or recognition and a scream of horror. It was pretty horrific in Ghostbusters, after all! Also the ‘Simon’ game was used very effectively in one of the Paranormal Activity films.

Shout-outs aside, I really liked this movie, and as a final note I want to give yet another cheer for its frickin’ beautiful soundtrack and imagery. The use of the advert jingle in a seance was another nice touch. For most fans of demons and creepy horror, with a little patience, Verónica is well worth a look.

The Good

  • Familiar plot but created in a fresh, interesting way
  • Great child actors
  • Domestic setting and strained family life grounds the movie
  • Decent twist brings her sanity into question

The Bad

  • Familiar plot of demon haunting
  • Kids in horror movies, booo
  • Too domestic
  • Predictable twist?