Director: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Lauren Holly, James Remar
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaws
Opening Day: 9 March 2017
Synopsis: In FEBRUARY, beautiful and haunted Joan makes a bloody and determined pilgrimage across a frozen landscape toward a prestigious all girls prep school, where Rose and Kat find themselves stranded after their parents mysteriously fail to retrieve them for winter break. As Joan gets closer, terrifying visions begin plaguing Kat, while Rose watches in horror as she becomes possessed by an unseen evil force.
‘February’ is nothing like your typical Hollywood horror movie, and we mean that in a good way. Otherwise known as ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ in some territories, actor-turned-writer-director Osgood Perkins’ feature filmmaking debut is really a slow-burn horror without cheap loud scare tactics or gratuitous gore, meaning that viewers looking for instant visceral gratification will probably find their patience tested.
Though divided into three chapters named after the three main female characters, ‘February’ largely unfolds as two parallel narratives in the dead of winter.
The first is anchored around Kat (‘Mad Men’s’ Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), two students at a prestigious Catholic prep school for girls in upstate New York. Whereas other students have gone home for the winter break, Kat and Rose’s parents have apparently been delayed. Being the senior, Rose is assigned by the headmaster Mr Gordon (Peter James Haworth) to look after the freshman Kat. In truth, Rose has intentionally stayed behind in order to meet with a local boy (Peter Gray) to tell him that she is pregnant with his child; on the other hand, Kat’s opening nightmare of a crashed car might reveal some clues whether her parents are even coming.
The other follows Joan (Emma Roberts), a jumpy young woman who is first seen cutting off a hospital bracelet in a public bathroom and experiencing flashbacks of a psychiatric ward. As she waits outside a public bus station for transport to Bramford (which is also the name of the said Catholic school), Joan is offered a ride by a middle-aged man named Bill (James Remar), who happens to be travelling with his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) in the direction where Joan is headed. Linda is less welcoming of their new company, and along the course of the night, the couple’s emotional tensions will become clearer, and so too their suitcases in the trunk of the car as well as the flowers in the backseat.
The less you know about ‘February’ before watchin it the better, just so that you can discover what happens during the course of the night and in the next fateful morning to Kat and Rose as well as the same in a different time period to Joan. We will tell you this though – there is Demonic possession involved, so do steel your nerves for the supernatural. We will also reassure you that the two seemingly unrelated tracks do have a strong, perfectly logical, connection between them, so those thinking that the non-linear storytelling approach is no more than a gimmick can put those fears to rest. Rather than lay out its cards too early, Perkins takes his time to set things up, building tension and dread before revealing the full extent of the horror within.
That ‘February’ manages to get so effectively under your skin is also because of the excellent mise-en-scene. Between the dimly lit interiors and wintry exteriors is some truly atmospheric cinematography by Julie Kirkwood that uses backlighting to create a potently creepy mix of dark and shadow, and equally moody sound design by Allan Fung that alternates between periods of unnerving silence and Elvis Perkins’ spare atonal score. The impressive behind-the-camera work is also well complemented by three strong central female performances, each chillingly effective in their own respective – and very different – ways; in particular, Shipka and Roberts are genuinely unsettling as teenage girls taken by dark forces beyond their control.
Like we forewarned at the beginning, ‘February’ isn’t your typical Hollywood possession/ exorcism movie. Oh yes there are evil things at work here, but Perkins keeps them elemental, eschewing usual tendencies to reason and rationalise why and how bad things happen to some people. This isn’t your genre exercise in shock and awe, but rather an engrossing mystery that takes its time to unveil itself – and when it finally does, proves to be worth the wait all along. Being Perkins’ first film makes ‘February’ an even greater accomplishment, one that certainly bodes greater things ahead for no less than the son of Mr Norman Bates himself.
(Brooding and suspenseful, this indie horror from first-time writer-director Osgood Perkins is a terrific slow-burn watch)
Review by Gabriel Chong