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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 1:37 am 
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A24’s had a banner couple years of picking up buzzy, slow-burning horror movies, but this is a next-level great work that should have received the marketing push of some of the label’s other titles. Maybe it was a bit of an odd man out given that the film premiered at TIFF several years ago (as February, a better nondescript title than the one we got) and inexplicably sat on a shelf for a couple years. It is, I think, one of the best films A24’s released, and the best modern horror film I’ve seen since Triangle.

The film is so cautious about revealing anything that going in blind is ideal, so I will keep my specifics to the spoiler box (and you really shouldn’t spoil it for yourself), but the film is another in the proud tradition of Empty House Horrors, sitting comfortably alongside works like the House of the Devil and the first act of When a Stranger Calls Back in terms of creating and maintaining an almost unbearable tension in little more than being alone in a cavernous building, here a boarding school. We follow three young women: two students who have, for different reasons, not been picked up for a weeklong break, and a third woman played by Emma Roberts, whose connection to the rest of the story remains a mystery until halfway through.

The film sports a strange, almost non-sequitur first act that only quite fits together in retrospect, and it starts the viewer off on the proper disorientation. The three central performances by Roberts, Lucy Boynton, and Kiernan Shipka are all terrific, but it’s Shipka who shines here. I’m not familiar with her as an actress but she brings such an uneasy cadence to her line readings and interpersonal approach that the persistent avoidance of proper social cues is as unnerving as anything else here. It’s an unsettling and effective performance even before the more horrific aspects turn up.

As things often must in these kind of films, the tension eventually transforms into violent release, and initially these conventional genre moments are so disappointing (as they were in the House of the Devil) for breaking the teeth-clenching stress of unease with far less interesting materialization of dread. I was prepared for most of the film to give this a pass regardless in deference to its highly effective style, but then the film reveals it has a brain in its head to match its fashionable exterior. I think even revealing the subset of horror film this movie belongs to is a spoiler (avoid the back cover text on the Blu-ray— I thankfully did), but even if you fail to avoid that, this film goes above and beyond by arriving on an idea that is so simple yet so goddamn clever in how it finds a new way into such a tired genre that I felt pure joy when I figured out what was going on. The film thus does the House of the Devil one better— I don’t have to pretend the last five minutes didn’t happen, because it’s the ending that elevates this above mere aesthetic pleasures:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Like Tucker and Dale vs Evil, this movie takes the usual trite set-up (though it hides it so well for so long that we can enjoy it without genre constraints for a while) and finds a new approach by flipping it. Here, we have a satanic possession movie in which once we figure out who Emma Roberts is, we think we’ve “solved” the mystery: she’s escaped the mental ward and is still possessed by the demon. Only at the end is it “clear”— and I use quotes because the film is subtle enough that I don’t even need to look at Amazon or iTunes to know there’s viewers who think nothing happens at the end— that our protagonist is in fact no longer possessed and rather is trying to commit heinous deeds again in an effort to entice the demon back into her. Such a simple idea. And such a brilliant one!


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 Post subject: Re: The Films of 2017
PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 2:28 pm 
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I just watched this on your recommendation (and because it was close to hand), and it is a remarkably put together film. Its simple story is perfect for the complex narrative structure it uses, and for the subtle way it says next to nothing but lets details slot together until things seem to become clear. And that style--this is one of the most uneasy and discomforting films I've seen in a long time; it's cold and bare and fills the most banal everyday situations with menace and dread. It's a testament to the sheer craft of the movie that it can make more or less nothing happening into such a gripping thing to watch.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
Perhaps its only flaw is that, until the very final moments, when a whole other dimension to the characters is opened, the narrative is somewhat let down by the story. Because the complicated narrative structure manages to suggest so much more than what is actually going on, it's a come down to realize the story is much more simple than its telling. So I agree, the violence, when it came, was disappointing; and yet that final, hopeless reveal, which with beautiful subtlety never explains itself, redeems that violent outburst and shows it to be not the point of the preceding movie, but one more piece of context for something so much more lonely and horrible.

My lingering questions: What happened to Kat's parents? And why did the headmaster return with the police? The pensive way the phone call is received, and way Rose is called out of the room and told to busy herself with shoveling, suggests that the reason for his return has to do with Kat, and indeed Kat's cryptic dream seems to suggest something happened to them. Kat says 'they're already dead', which Rose seems to take to refer to her, Rose's, parents, but it could easily refer to Kat's parents. Yet Kat still seems to wait for them, crossing off days, etc. Or perhaps the dream and the intimations of parental death were just a trick of the devil to open her up to him. But then why is the headmaster back with the police? That refusal to explain things, but let the details slot into place and suggest what they will, speaks to a confidence sorely lacking in most modern horror films.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 2:40 pm 
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Glad you enjoyed it! Fun fact: the writer/director is Anthony Perkins' son! With regards to your question in the spoiler box:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
I assumed her parents were in a car accident, hence her being shown the crashed car when meeting her (unseen) father in the dream (?) at the beginning of the film. The trooper and headmaster are thus there to break the news, with the discovery of the accident plausibly delayed a few days given winter conditions in upstate New York. My assumption was the demon chose Kat because of this (thus the accident occurred even before her recital), knowing her to be alone and vulnerable, a state she will of course remain in til the cold empty end.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 5:48 pm 
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Yeah, that was what I assumed as well, although you really have to piece it together out of somewhat ambiguous details.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
I like that idea of yours that the demon/devil targeted her especially because of that vulnerability, because it makes it even sadder the way Kat would reach out to people in those quiet ways--disappointed the priest wouldn't stay, reminding Rose that the headmaster asked Rose to look out for her--hoping for someone else to offer a moment of connection and concern so that she wouldn't have to assuage her loneliness and isolation in demonic possession. And how sad, in the end, that that demon had made it so impossible for her to have any connection to others ever again that she turns down the companionship that couple seemed to offer (at least the dad) in favour of chasing a demon who will never be her companion again. She ends the movie so alone that even the devil won't touch her.

Also, I think the most evil thing in the whole movie comes only in retrospect, when you realize what Kat's smile in the restaurant bathroom actually signifies. Jesus.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 6:36 pm 
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I have a feeling you folks will not like it as much, but Perkin's other movie I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (his newest) is on Netflix. It is branded as a Netflix Original. Since I'm a big fan of Shirley Jackson's writings, the movie was right up my alley. It really gets Jackson's general mindset, the interior life of her female characters and the psychology of an isolated house. Pretty Thing is also a very slow burn that judges its pace just right. It and Blackcoat have been rather pleasant surprises for me which have broken up a run of buzzed-about newer horror films that, like The Void or Cure for Wellness, really rubbed me the wrong way.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2017 6:35 am 
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I watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (great title, much better than the two attached to Perkins' previous film), and while I didn't like it as much due to the material being a bit thinner, the technical prowess and confidence of The Blackcoat's Daughter was just as present. It's the sheer patience of that style that impresses me; how many horror movies are willing to be that slow, to spend so much time just making sure the tiniest things--sometimes only the tiniest things--carry the maximum weight of tension and fright? It's so quiet and minimal, indeed, that The Blackcoat's Daughter looks positively roaring in comparison. An extremely effective haunted house movie, one probably too elliptical (what do we really find out at the conclusion?), but worthy nonetheless, and more interesting than movies like The Conjuring.

I'm really excited to see what Perkins does next.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 28, 2017 5:52 pm 
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Worth mentioning that the Blackcoat's Daughter is also streaming free for those with Amazon Prime. Hopefully more members will check it out and weigh in


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 30, 2017 11:20 pm 
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LQ watched it and really enjoyed it and I am publicly lobbying her to come out of her hibernation and post about it here


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:23 pm 
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mfunk9786 wrote:
LQ watched it and really enjoyed it and I am publicly lobbying her to come out of her hibernation and post about it here
Forgot I'd been summoned...
I echo the praise here; up to the end I was enjoying it as a remarkably well-crafted, glacially chilling mood piece but the final scene caused reverberations throughout what came before in a way that elevated the entire experience in ways I wasn't expecting. Also,
[Reveal] Spoiler:
while I completely subscribe to the reading of the end that domino offered, I think a slightly different but equally compelling interpretation could be that she has suddenly come to realize in a shock of clarity in the light of day what her single-minded drive to unsuccessfully win back possession hath wrought - especially considering who she has dispatched. Of course the chilling laugh in the diner bathroom potentially complicates this reading but I'd be willing to hear a case for it nonetheless. Either way...horribly, profoundly sad and tremendous ending
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:46 pm 
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[Reveal] Spoiler:
I'll voice another positive look at the film. I think, and I say this is as a positive, that the film telegraphs much of the ending (though not those last three or four minutes of motivation) pretty early on. This is for me probably in part because I couldn't tell Roberts and the actress playing Kat apart for the first hour or so. That really allowed me to stew in the experience of it. Perkins' greatness here seems to be absolutely embodying that experience of adolescent loneliness and how it is a ghost people chase. In that sense the film reminded me a great deal of Heathers though with a much more psychologically subjective POV lending to the overall Argento reality.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:28 pm 
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I just watched this and have to echo all the praise. Beautifully made and intelligently conceived. I think one of the great visual strengths of the film is the smart, but not attention-getting, use of negative space. Lots of just off-kilter compositions and mildly surprising cuts (i.e. ones that don't compositionally 'match up', so that characters appear in the new sho twhere you expect them), all masterfully woven into otherwise classical syntax.

Kiernan Shipka's superb performance in this film will be no surprise to anybody who watched Mad Men. They cast an eight-year-old who miraculously turned out to be as good as any actor in that remarkable cast, and year after year took on more an more challenging material without batting an eyelid. (Compare this to her younger brother, who had to be recast so many times it ultimately became a self-reflexive gag within the show itself). It's one of the best and most complex child performances ever.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:37 pm 
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If zedz and I agreeing on this film can't get more of you to check it out, what else could possibly convince you?


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2017 4:35 pm 
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Perkins' commentary on this disc is a good listen, with some really good advice for fellow first-timers (e.g. don't over-write and don't over-light). There's a deliberate reference to Psycho in the film that you'd never guess if you weren't told, and any similarity between these two people is entirely deliberate:
Image
Image


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:46 am 
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I liked it a lot. The sound design played a big part in making even the most mundane scene feel very unsettling. It reminded me a little of Lynch in the sense that Lynch often films reality like it was a dream and vice versa. I'm maybe not quite as enthusiastic about the film as you guys are
[Reveal] Spoiler:
it lost me a little with the late exorcism scene
but I do agree that it deserved a wider audience, certainly among those who like their horror to be a slow burn thing. Tricky film to market which is presumably why A24 sat on it for so long and it came and went without a trace.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 2:54 pm 
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I'm curious about what problems you had with that scene. It's probably the most generic horror scene in the film, but it's absolutely essential to the story -
[Reveal] Spoiler:
because we need to know for certain that Kat is not acting in the present day under demonic possession. I'd argue that the scene also has to be generic, because a large part of the mystery of the film revolves around what kind of a horror movie it is. It's also crucial that we understand that the possession was unambiguously supernatural, so any 'was it all in her mind?' hedging would be counterproductive.

And Perkins get solid extra mileage out of the scene earlier on when it's used in a very brief flashback to suggest that Joan was sexually or physically abused by the church, which is a useful fakeout for what her real story is without being a cheat.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 3:13 pm 
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Oh, I absolutely agree the scene had to be in the film. My reading of the final murder and the ending was that
[Reveal] Spoiler:
present day Kat tried to draw the devil/spirit back by presenting the couple's severed heads at the furnace
so the exorcism didn't feel pointless as such to me but maybe it was the "generic" element of it or the priest's performance, and to be fair, Perkins doesn't dwell on the scene. I'd have to watch it again. Mind you, it wasn't a huge distraction but the scene did stick out a bit for me.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
What was the Psycho reference, out of curiosity?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:30 pm 
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Finch wrote:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
What was the Psycho reference, out of curiosity?

[Reveal] Spoiler:
When Kat hears the demonic voice on the phone, Perkins cast one of the voice actors who did Mother's voice in the original film - an old family friend, apparently.

An in-joke that's there purely to delight himself - and now us.

EDIT:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
It was Paul Jasmin, and the in-joke runs so deep that he's not even credited. His most recent credit on imdb was more than ten years ago - Marie Antionette, of all things!

Actually, that's one interesting filmography. Only four credits after Psycho, and three of them are Midnight Cowboy, Adaptation and Marie Antionette.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:38 am 

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One Amazon reviewer has nailed the problem with the film:
"This was a blind buy ,but a good one. I personally like the story but the odds of this actually happening is nearly impossible statistically."


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:14 pm 
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You know, I have exactly the same issue with Cat People. And don't get me started on Orphee!


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