There will not be a more divisive film at Fantastic Fest this year than Osgood (Oz) Perkins’ film February, which had its U.S. premiere last Thursday night. I realize this review is a little late, but I wanted to have a day or two to let the film sink in before I put my thoughts on
paper the Internet. To give this some perspective: the man sitting next to me at my screening fell asleep and his wife absolutely hated it. The film has continued to spark debates on Fantastic Fest Facebook groups and among festival-goers between screenings. While initially lukewarm on the film, I have since grown to like it quite a bit after having a few days to sit with it.
February is the directorial debut of Oz Perkins, aka Anthony Perkins’ son, aka this guy from Legally Blonde. It is an impressive debut, and Perkins displays an immense amount of control behind the camera. He slowly (and I mean slowly) builds tension throughout the course of the film, the narrative of which is split between three female characters (and two timelines). February will benefit greatly from multiple viewings, and I’m already eager to see it again so I can let the film’s sense of dread wash over me again.
As I mentioned above, the film follows three young girls over the course of a few days in the month of, you guessed it, February. Kat (Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is left to spend the break at her boarding school after her parents fail to show up to take her home. Over the course of the break, she is plagued by visions of a sinister force. Accompanying Kat over the break is Rose (English TV actress Lucy Boynton) who is in the middle of a pregnancy scare and has lied to her parents about when they can pick her up so she can discuss her potential pregnancy with her boyfriend.
Finally, we have Joan (Emma Roberts, Scream 4, Scream Queens, American Horror Story) who has her own storyline separate from Kat and Rose. When we first meet Joan, she is waiting at a bus stop to trek to the town where Rose and Kat’s boarding school is. She is picked up by an older couple (James Remar & Lauren Holly), and they take her to her destination. To say any more about the plot would ruin you experience of February.
The performances are all top notch, and it’s refreshing to see Roberts break away from the Ice Queen role she’s perfected over the years. The standouts were Boynton and Shipka though, as they get more screen time than Roberts and better material to work with.
The cinematography is also excellent. Julie Kirkwood does some fantastic work capturing the isolation of and chill of the winter season. For a first-time director, Perkins show’s a lot of confidence behind the camera, and he weaves the three different segments of the film together quite smoothly, preventing it from getting too confusing.
I do have one major gripe with the film, but it involves the ending. I’ve refrained from including any specific details of the films third act, but if you would like to remain 100% spoiler-free don’t highlight the paragraph below.
***HIGHLIGHT BELOW FOR MINOR SPOILERS***
There is a twist in the third act that the film does not make very clear. At first I thought I was missing something, but when Perkins stated in his post-screening Q&A what actually happened, light bulbs went off in half of the audience’s heads. Even after the screening, I had talked to people who didn’t like the film, and when I brought up the twist they would say “wait, that’s what happened?” I certainly felt less dumb, but that makes it very clear that Perkins (and the film) make the resolution too ambiguous for its own good. On top of that, buying into the plot point requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Again, it’s difficult to explain this without bringing up major spoilers for the film, so I’ll just leave it at that. Feel free to Tweet me if you have any questions regarding specifics about the film’s ending..
All of that being said, February is a truly haunting film with great performances that will stick with you long after you watch it. It will probably benefit from multiple viewings, and while I can certainly see why some people wouldn’t like it, I love it. Judging from all the conversation and debates it has sparked among its viewers, I’d say it’s done its job. It will stick with you for days (or even weeks) after you see it. I can’t get the damn thing out of my head.