Films are very rarely literary. By definition, film is everything that literature cannot be and vice versa. One is entirely internal, the brain connecting language alone to synaptic experiences and emotion. The other is flashing colors, music, and visual cues of emotions and experiences. The two art forms seems diametric in their interactions with the human mind. Despite all of this, when the credits of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a film by Oz Perkins, finally scroll across the screen one cannot help but feel akin to how one feels when they put down a novel. The film feels both wispy and dense, as if the audience has just skated across the surface but the subtext and characters have reached up to the ankles of the viewers leaving a hint of something deeper and troubling.
A large part of this has to be attributed to the directorial approach of Perkins. It is disjointed, dreamlike, and heavily stylized. Moments flash by with a hint at the subconscious of the characters and general plot. Everything feels complicated and confusing, but intentionally so. Considering the majority of the film plays out in a private girl’s high school, one could assume this directorial approach is an attempt to encapsulate the general feel of being a teenager. When childhood and adulthood pull at you with equal fervor, the result is very often disjointed and dreamlike.
The literary portion of the film is best exemplified with two specific components of the film.
Firstly, there are three “chapters” or sections of the film, complete with title card to identify them. Much like a novel, the tone, style, and point of view differs drastically within the chapters. Sometimes these chapters cover the same events with completely different approached depending on who the protagonist of the section is.
Secondly, the revelation of the final act is very literary in the sense that the twist is dependent on not being able to see a major detail of the story. This is much easier to accomplish in written word than in an art form that puts visualization at such a premium. While the twist eventually morphs into something a bit more cinematic by the conclusion of the film, the crux of the storytelling still depends heavily on a traditionally literary device.
So, Blackcoat’s Daughter is both a disjointed film and a film analogous to literature. And it is also a success. The film is intentional, plotting, and effective. Everything is hazy but compelling, slow but tense, dense but simple. It is that rare film that is straddling several different creative worlds and styles. all while doing it with mastery.
This is all without acknowledging the subtext and thematic play of the film. There is so much here in the form of commentary on religion, femininity, and the journey to adulthood. It is fair to say, then, that The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not only puzzling and challenging, it is also a successful fusion of so many different elements and narrative styles. Considering this was technically Perkins’ first feature film as a director (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House was filmed after, but released before this film) an audience member can’t help but feel we are seeing a talent evolve and reveal itself in the world of independent cinema.