Who cares what the movie’s about, a name like that is sure to send chills down your bones! Get it? See, I’m making a joke that with a title like “February,” it reminds you of the month of February. Generally, the month of February is cold, thus creating chills. Well, unless you live in a place where it doesn’t get cold in February, then you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. For everyone else, you’re welcome for the hilarious content! Oh boy. Off to a great start. Anyways, I didn’t know much about February going in, other than positive word-of-mouth out of TIFF, and received pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise throughout the viewing experience. Inspired performances, chilling cinematography, and a terrifying narrative come together to tell the twisted tale of nightmares unfolding at a girl’s boarding school in what is in the running for one of my favorite horror films of 2015.
UPDATE: A24 changed the name of the movie to “The Blackcoat’s Daughter,” probably because they read my post!
Sally, who’s on the phone? Is it Glenn? YOU HANG UP, GLENN’S A WEIRDO.
February tells the tale of three women clearly experiencing times of stress and uncertainty. Katherine (Kiernan Shipka) prepares for spring vacation by performing a song for her school, but with her parents not being in attendance, feels disappointed. Even worse, this might result in her having to stay at the Catholic school. Similarly, Rose’s (Lucy Boynton) family has yet to show up, forcing her to connect with Kat, despite being in the middle of a pregnancy scare. We also meet Joan (Emma Roberts), a young woman with nowhere to go and no one she can turn to after leaving a psychiatric ward, and must rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. The creepy emptiness of the school gets to Rose, who hopes for a way out, while Kat begins to take comfort in the in the looming darkness of their situation. Meanwhile, a series of coincidences puts Joan on a path towards the school, a place she seems to have a connection to. I’ll leave it at that, because the less you know, the better. Plus, you might be too scared already.
You reallllllly shouldn’t huff paint like that, Emma.
Man oh man, where do I begin to discuss how much I liked about February without just blabbering like an idiot? For those of you who say I already sound like an idiot, I agree. Anyways, my first reaction to the movie was exclaiming, “Oh crap, that’s Sally Draper!” I was always a fan of Shipka’s work in Mad Men so I was thrilled to see her pop up in a genre film. Clearly she got a few tips from Jon Hamm about portraying a character clearly detached from reality while also conveying fragility and vulnerability. Boynton exquisitely walked the line of excluding the younger girl at school while also possessing a charm and likability that the audience could connect with. I’ve been a fan of Roberts since her Hotel for Dogs days, and she gives a subtle yet compellingly distraught performance. James Remar and Lauren Holly help round out the supporting cast, but it’s the three female leads that really shine.
You really need to be more careful when filing your nails.
Have you ever felt like February might be the shortest month because it’s the most miserable time of the year and even the Gregorians wanted to get it over with A.S.A.P.? Writer and first-time director Osgood Perkins teamed up with cinematographer Julie Kirkwood managed to capture everything I hated about the month of February and put it up on-screen. The punishing cold, the desolation, the exhaustion of winter, and general unease of being trapped indoors in the frigid northeast for a few too many days. Setting the story at the brink of spring break, right when our characters should be getting respite from the bleakness, only to have it snatched away, only heightened the desperation of the characters. There are a few moments with supernatural imagery, and February took a “less is more” approach by under-lighting sinister sequences or making demonic figures appear out of focus. This technique makes the viewer work harder and strain to find nefarious elements in seemingly empty shots, trying to grasp if what we saw was actually happening, much in the same way the characters in the film struggled to discover the reality of their situations.
What’s wrong with trying to stay warm by the fire?
Guys…it’s so damned hard not spoiling things in this movie for you. I’M SO EXCITED BY IT. With the current trend of horror films rekindling the spirit of the ’80s, February digs much deeper, channeling Polanski, The Shining, and other Satanic paranoia films of the ’60s. The film leads you down dark paths to the most terrifying corners of your mind. You’re left guessing what’s truly happening and what’s all in someone’s head. There isn’t much reason to revisit psychological thrillers that reveal everything in their climax, proving that much of the film’s joy comes from learning about the reality. February not only leaves its ending ambiguous, but even if you do draw conclusions from context clues throughout the film, it crafts such an interesting world that I can’t wait to revisit it and try to extract more clues. The film doesn’t need to reinvent the genre, nor does it attempt to, but it proves that if you take a great cast, atmosphere, and concept, you can craft a bleak, gripping descent into madness that leaves you with more questions than answers.
Wolfman Moon Scale