Satan’s presence is strong at the Toronto International Film Festival, but only one film has left me worshipping him.
Hyped with an outstanding trailer and shocking clip (both of which I suggest avoiding for spoilers), Osgood Perkins’ February (retitled to The Blackcoat’s Daughter for the release) not only lives up to the expectations, but exceeds them.
While the chilling performances of “American Horror Story’s” Emma Roberts and “Mad Men’s” Kiernan Shipka catapult the film into masterpiece status (yes, I went there), it’s Perkins’ writing and directing that stands out.
February is a brooding horror film that requires a viewer with extreme patience, not that Perkins’ film isn’t brimming with suspenseful sequences. Kat (Shipka) has nightmares/visions of her parents’ death, waking up in a cold sweat. She’s marking down the days to her prep school’s winter break, only her parents fail to show to pick her up. Same for Rose (Lucy Boynton), who tricked her parents into coming later to deal with the fact that she’s become pregnant. All the while, a side story develops with Joan (Roberts), who is being driven to an undisclosed location by “Dexter’s” James Remar and his wife, who are off to visit the grave of their daughter.
It’s pretty clear from the start these stories are going to collide, but it’s insignificant to the experience. February is a master-craft in building tension and suspense through rich characters and
stunning frightening imagery.
But what I truly loved about February is that the Devil – so to speak – is presented on such a basic and instinctual level. There’s no real reference to him; there’s no characters acting as devices to explain it all, nor is there a nefarious antagonist laughing maniacally when he/she gets the upper hand. What you get is a raw interpretation of what it could be like to become possessed by evil and the feeling of extreme isolation. It all ties together, has deep meaning, and is significant in its ability to connect on an emotional level to so many of us.
February isn’t a game-changer, nor is it going to cause horror fans to erupt in applause (probably why it’s not part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the best possession films ever. Fans of slow-burn horror are rewarded for their patience as what thaws out is going to shock the living Hell out of them.