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Osgood Perkins on ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’: Did the Devil Make Him Do It?

The Blackcoat's Daughter via A24

Those with DirecTV are the luckiest of horror fans as they can finally see Osgood Perkins‘ supremely excellent The Blackcoat’s Daughter (read my review), which has been one of my favorite slow-burn genre films of the past few years, ahead of its limited release on March 31st.

We caught the world premiere of the film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival – and if it weren’t for It Followsmy favorite horror film of 2015 would have been Perkins’ satanic thriller. Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story”, “Scream Queens”) and Kiernan Shipka (“Mad Men,” Carriers) star as two terrified girls who must battle a mysterious evil force when they get left behind at their boarding school over winter break.

We caught up with Osgood, who is the son of legendary Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, to discuss his inspirations, as well as the film’s mythology and religious undertones. Be warned, though, there are some minor spoilers throughout.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter was directly inspired by the loss of Perkins’ parents, which triggered some creative thinking.

“The movie is about the loss of parents,” Perkins told us in an exclusive interview. “And so that’s based on my own experience, which isn’t exactly unique; it’s either something everyone has experienced or will experience in one way or another.

“My parents died almost exactly nine years apart – one day short of exactly nine years apart – and it always seemed to me that that had to be some indication of something at work, some design or architecture that we can’t see. Good or bad, beautiful or sinister, I don’t know there’s no point in guessing about that kind of thing. So instead you kind of go and tell a story about it, and telling the story becomes about wondering and working it out…and trying to see what’s hidden from us.”

He continues: “I feel like the best of the horror genre deals with that which we can’t see, or fully understand, all of the dark matter that’s kept just out of our reach. I was inspired by two movies that I watched one right after the other when I was first working on the script: ‘The Strangers’ and ‘Let the Right One In’, both of which struck me as deeply sad. Sad as opposed to only routinely scary. And so I was struck by the idea – the feeling – that a good horror picture is actually an authentic emotional experience. So I think I married that suspicion to the outline of a story that felt close to my own life, in its way.”

There’s a terrifying underlying story about what it means to “believe” in God or the Devil, Osgood explains his interpretation of the potential intelligent design at work.

“Instead of God or the Devil, I tend to think of everything as being a mystery, an organization or a webbing or a network that we can only occasionally get a sense of,” he explains. “Surely there is something that holds all of this madness we call life and experience together. Nature and life are far too organized and systematic and fucking mathematical to exist at random and for no real purpose. And there have been times in my life when I’ve been on the lookout for signs of this, evidence of this – especially when everything is pretty fucked and sloppy and falling apart – and then other times when everything feels like it’s lining up like a road and we’re all just touring along. Of course the Devil exists. Is he red or scaly or hairy or whatever… let’s assume he isn’t. And he’s just the center of the shadow we all cast. We all have a shadow and we all wear a shadow. Some of our shadows are denser. On some people it’s like a paper hat. Those people… I dunno what they do all day. Or what they worry about. Pro sports, maybe?”

The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a dense ominous tone, as if you’re watching something you probably shouldn’t be. Perkins explains that this was intentional:

“I wanted [the look] warm wherever we could get it because I wanted the idea that poor Kat is actually being held and kept and warmed by this bad thing. Julie Kirkwood and I have the same tastes and like the same things. The backs of peoples’ heads and silhouettes and head room in the frame. It’s good to work with someone who fixates on the same stuff. I wanted everything to feel mostly observational. Like we’re watching something terrible happen, and it’s just happening and it’s sad and terrible and there’s nothing really to be done about it. So we tend to stay away from big closeups and we don’t really follow characters around. We kind of let them come and go. It feels better to me that way. It feels properly powerless.

The film carries dynamo performances by the trio of Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton. Perkins went into immense detail on how talented each of these actresses are, and how he approached working with them. While typically conversations like this are a bore, Perkins really gets into why we’ll all love these three young girls’ performances.

“Emma is some kind of genius who never forgets anything that I ever said. We talked months before shooting and then on the day it was all completely fresh for her. I can’t tell Emma Roberts how to act. She’s been doing it and that’s what she does. I can only demonstrate what I think I mean by what’s going on. She’s her own instrument and she plays it. It helps to have generated the material myself… in that way I can trust that it all pretty well holds together and that it’s going to come across. Emma understood the material and from the beginning was up front about how much it disturbed her – in a good way – and so her instincts were always aligned.

“Kiernan is a little machine. I don’t know if there is anything she can’t do and do comfortably; she sang and swore and stabbed and cried and played the piano, all of it like she’d only ever been waiting for the chance to be asked. I had demonic makeup for her that I actually had to throw out of the movie because her performance was so much more engaging than any makeup could suggest. She out-demon’d the makeup. For the most part I just told Kiernan what I thought Kat was seeing, what was hovering in the space in front of her eyes that only she could see. And then Kiernan made herself see it.

“I was ridiculously lucky to find [Lucy] through an audition tape she made in England, and seeing it was instant recognition. I have heard that happens sometimes and it happened here. All of a sudden there weren’t any other choices. I wanted someone who wears a mask of a tough and feckless kid but is actually the only truly vulnerable one around. And her audition had all of that, somehow. She’s such a sophisticated actor and comes up from under all the time. She knows how to give the camera exactly what it needs with nothing wasted. I swear there are some bits in the movie where she’s saying stuff with her mouth closed.”

What’s interesting about Blackcoat’s is that it takes place in an all-girtls school. Perkins briefly talked about that decision and how it changed as development progressed.

“At the time it seemed like a good hub of vulnerability. Like a farmer’s market for the Devil. But then you realize that young women are stronger than young men so the movie becomes more about survival of the fittest as opposed to ‘who can we torment?’.”

And in regards to learning from his father’s work, Osgood believes it’s as “meant to be” as the events in his film.

“I shouldn’t say there is a direct connection or a one for one translation. It’s probably all in the cosmic soup somewhere.

“Thanks, Bloody Disgusting,” he concludes, “for being such staunch and enthusiastic supporters of the movie. It really does make all the difference.

“O P”

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is now on DirecTV with a limited release slated for March 31st.

The Blackcoat's Daughter via A24 and Peter Maur



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