For many horror fans, the wait for Oz Perkins THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (previously known as FEBRUARY) has bordered on painful.
One of the most buzzed-about titles at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the directorial debut of Oz Perkins has been elusive to stateside genre films, all the while with foreign audiences and critics hyping the chilling horror offering. Now, the wait is over: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is now available via DirecTV and A24 films and hits select theaters and VOD nationwide in a matter of weeks. With the heavy horror of this festival favorite on the mind, Terror Time spoke with Perkins about crafting the film, his unique use of suspense, and the emotional journey of THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER…
TERROR TIME: How did you first come up with the concept for THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER?
OZ PERKINS: Well I had written a couple of screenplays with other people and so I figured I would write something by myself for only myself, whatever that means. As basic as it sounds, I said to myself, “What do I want to see? What do I love? What turns me on?” I had THE SHINING and ROSEMARY’S BABY in my mind, of course, as vague references of things that had always blown me away. But I knew that I didn’t want to make a horror movie just for a horror movie’s sake; I didn’t want to make people sick or upset. I wanted to make something more, and as I was starting to think about this, I watched 2 movies that I hadn’t seen: I watched the original LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and I watched my friend Bryan Bertino’s movie, THE STRANGERS. Seeing those two movies together gave me a new sensation about horror movies: they’re best when they are sad, or when the focus on the human experience.
Those two movies really had something to say about loss and the hopelessness of the way life can go. THE STRANGERS is really just a movie about a couple who want the night to themselves to resolve their long relationship, which is now over; of course, that goes badly. So I got this feeling that a horror movie could be as sad as it could be scary, and, in some ways, that could make the film sadder and scarier. So I thought I could tap into my own experience with grief, having lost my mother and my father, and I thought I had enough in me so that I could “trojan horse” that type of movie onto the page.
Horror movies are always going to be things that people want, and things that people give their attention to; people want to be present at the movies, and horror movies demand that people be present. So I found my way into this world, into this location, and into the life of this girl who had lost her parents. So that’s what the movie is about to me, more than it is about the devil, or girls stabbing girls; that’s the ceremonial clothing, but the heart of THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is about losing something that’s irreplaceable.
TT: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER uses dread expertly, almost in the sense that the film is somewhat of a suspenseful waiting game as you posit more and more specific pieces of information. Was that always the approach you had in mind for this story?
OP: I find that I’m the happiest with the movies that I see and the movies that I try to create When there isn’t a lot of story-telling and there isn’t a lot of incident. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t watch television, as great as I know that television currently is because television becomes a series of incidents. I think that’s great, but I prefer the occasional essential incident surrounded by the theme and the attitude of the film. So to be in a place without a lot of shit happening, or without a lot of stuff being said- God forbid- it was more entertaining for me to watch, and I was glad to make a movie like that.
TT: Without giving anything away, there’s a certain subplot in this film about a woman trying to reunite with someone and it definitely gives an unexpected dimension to her actions. As the filmmaker, what did that particular emotional relationship mean to you, especially considering where the film ends?
OP: I think that character’s journey is about acceptance. When you experience cataclysmic, non-negotiable loss, all you have left is acceptance. It may take you a week, it may take you a lifetime, and it’s not fucking okay, but you know what? It’s okay. That’s the trip this character is on: “I can’t believe that I’m all alone now, and there has to be something still out there for me.” But what happens when you find out that’s not true, and it’s all gone? I wanted the movie to end on a portrait of that answer.
TT: What would you say was the most difficult part of the process of making THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER?
OP: It’s always the money. It’s such a stupid answer, but this was a hard movie to convince people to invest money on. I was a first time director and this wasn’t a straight-down-the-middle genre thing; the producers were really taking a chance here on making something weirder, and the first real obstacle of this movie was finding someone to support it. Once you do, then it becomes a delightful series of delightful problems. As a director, every day when I was on my way to set, I’d go, “Well, there’s going to be a bunch of stuff that’s not going to work out today. Let’s find a way to make that stuff better.”
Once filming got underway, the conditions were incredibly brutal: it couldn’t have been any colder, we didn’t have enough time, we couldn’t rehearse things, and you’re hoping for the best. All of those things are true, but once you get the right people around you and you’re in the rhythm of it, it’s a good time. Considering what people go through in this world, getting to direct a movie is pretty fucking sweet.