February_3Year: 2015
Director: Osgood (Oz) Perkins
Writer(s): Osgood (Oz) Perkins
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 93 mins

Synopsis: Set at an all girls boarding school, February tells the story of three women bound together by a series of sinister events. (Source)

Osgood Perkins’ February isn’t a film that you watch, it’s one that you experience. By design, its themes don’t become clear until the very end, forcing the viewer to feel rather than think their way through the fractured plot. Like very few who play in this genre, Perkins fully utilizes its cathartic power, choosing a sophisticated, visceral experience rather than one that manifests itself outright. The prolonged ambiguous nature of it all will be maddening for some, and it won’t be for everyone, but patience is rewarded with a sincere examination of grief and a trio of powerhouse performances. As an antithesis to the horror genre’s increasing over dependence on instant gratification, February cuts so deep that the weight of it all only increases the further you get away from it.

On the eve of their winter break, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose’s (Lucy Boynton) parents are both a no-show, causing them to be stranded at their Catholic boarding school. Kat’s a fragile freshman devastated that her parents missed her recital, while Rose is harboring a secret that she’s understandably hesitant to tell anyone about. Separated by age and an inability to relate to one another, the tension is thick between the two, as they brave the cold, the loneliness of their empty school and a sinister, supernatural force that stays hidden in the periphery. In addition to the two, another young girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) is waiting alone at a bus stop. She gets a ride by a samaritan couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly) as she reminds the husband of someone important. Over the course of the story, evil forces vie for each girl as the connection between the trio becomes evident.

In essence, the idea behind Perkins’ story is just as important as how it’s told. Defiantly holding out and slowly revealing key details over the course of the film, the story plays out like a half-lucid nightmare, with sparse dialogue, impressionistic photography and a jigsaw of a narrative. The pieces are given to us very slowly, and it’s only after letting the film completely wash over us that we get any semblance of meaning. What’s evident along the way is that Perkins’ cinematic voice is a strong one, immersing us fully into the isolation and confusion of his characters, all while eliciting an unease that we can’t quite put our finger on. This is experiential storytelling, nuanced and surreal. Though the final revelation is simple one, and not as convoluted as the plot might make it seem, it’s an emotional wallop that stings with sensitivity and terrifying sincerity.

February_2Aside from Perkins’ thoughtfully unique presentation, what really sells the film are the performances of its three leads. As Kat, Shipka plays her character with a frightening duality. You can almost at times see two entities within her as she shifts her body language or facial expression, and through it all, there’s a deep pain that ties it all together. It’s a mature performance that rings with depth. Lucy Boynton’s Rose goes through her own kind of transformation. Cold and insensitive at first, but more sympathetic as time goes on, she does a good job of illustrating a character struggling with internal angst. To seal the deal, Emma Robert delivers Joan as a broken young woman looking for redemption or meaning. Most of what she conveys is without dialogue, displaying pain, regret and a hopelessness in all that she does. The through line between this trio is that their characters are all intensely internal, and the film lives and dies with them, a challenge that they accept with ease.

February will give to you as much as you give to it – you have to allow it to get under your skin without question. But even still, it takes its time circling around emotional ideas and existing as a tone poem about the ways we handle and redirect trauma. Like Zulawksi’s Possession, emotion and sorrow manifest in physical form, but don’t expect a creature fest, the entity in play is more a cipher for intangible feelings. Telling a story that sticks in a really different way, Osgood Perkins proves himself one to watch out for, and it’ll be exciting to see what he does next.