The Blackcoat’s Daughter

I came across the “Gretel and Hansel” (2020) movie the other day and melted. There was something unbearably engrossing in that spin on the old fairy tale that had become a coming of age story for Gretel.

The movie flirts with a magical, frighting Jungian version of femininity but unfortunately doesn’t commit to it’s strongest feature choosing instead to get lost in the woods. I don’t know if it was studio interference but some unnecessary voice overs bury a possibly sinister, lovely ending. The film has all the making of a cult classic, but wouldn’t go beyond that.

You can easily make the case it’s a bad movie despite the wonderful symmetrical shots, blurred edges, neon colour palettes and synth-y music. But something about the peasant Gothic setting and the visuals that seem to be channeling both the Vvitch and Midsommer create some impressive looking magic that I can’t stop thinking about. The witches house is all red & yellow lighting, making it seem hellish. Sometimes the visuals mix 1450 & 1970.

Though the modern sounding dialogue can get grating there’s a real thrill in seeing a cannibal witch’s magic seem seductive, subversive. The subtext is what you should look at instead of the plot. Though it does have an amazing, hidden twist if you look closely enough. I’ll write it below but don’t read it if you haven’t watched it.

Spoiler: The beautiful child is none other than Gretel herself. The witch/ mother tells her to stop pretending and even states she is Gretel’s mother; she ask how Gretel would know the tale if she was not somehow a part of it. In fact Gretel has managed to draw Hansel and his mother to her much like the witch draws children to herself. Gretel is the character who put everything in motion.

Reddit user Phantom- Hacker in the horror subreddit elaborates and says “In truth Gretel is in denial about who she really is, with it possibly occurring ever since she imparted her darkness onto her mother. Gretel wants the freedom to chose her own path and who she really wants to be. However in reality it was her own actions which set in stone the future of who she would become, hence the irony of her being the girl who could once see into the future, and would even take that future from others before finally taking it from herself as once she finally chooses to act saying she’ll pursue a path in the light only for her hands to return back to the darkness constrained with her original self”

In another post he explains “The way I see it the villain won. As a child Gretel is kicked out for being too dangerous, she then forcefully gifts the darkness to her mother who then goes on a killing spree, killing her other children and any that she can get. Doing exact what Gretel herself imagined the pink hooded girl aka her younger self to be doing. Meanwhile in the time passing Gretel takes over the mind of Hansel and HIS Mother bringing them misfortune for years to come, likely killing the father as well. 

Pretending to be an innocent little girl as she lives a life of tainted righteousness and continues to care for her younger brother. Then she goes back to the witch, her original mother only to enact a subconscious plan to steal powers back which comes to a clashing game of ethics as said witch attempts to take away the very brother Gretel has sired to her whim. And doing what Gretel herself would have done had her darkness stayed with her. She defeats the Witch all whilst claiming to be on the light, making zero efforts to morally save the woman tainted with HER darkness in the first place.

Then going on claiming to set her broth free, as well as bring vengeance for the souls that would never have died without her actions in the first place. Then taking over the witches home, claiming she has control of herself as well as her destiny and that she use her powers for the light while subconsciously her darkness returns to her as planned as she continue to play the innocent victim and in the moral right despite being the one who brought curse into fruition in the first place. All while fully intending to do exactly as her mother did”

This is why Gretel’s hands turn black.

The same director made another movie, which seems to play to his strengths, once again about young women. There’s something to be said but this little genre of horror hovering around women but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway this time in the Blackcoat’s Daughter (2020) we’re in the bleak but comforting prestigious, catholic, prep school. Winter is here and the sun is always waning, the windows and brick walls have been cleared but there’s something about the way the school lingers that envelops you. I can’t say much without revealing major plot points so go watch the movie first.

We begin with a dream sequence with a one of the movies main leads. Kat is shown how her parents died in a dream and this is the last time we see Kat with a neutral expression. For the rest of the movie she is desperate for any kind of human connection but all her attempts are rebuked.  Sad faced Kat slowly comes to embrace the demon inside her, in a turn that expands the usual embracing Satan trope. She is treated like noting more than an inconvenience and the perhaps familiar character pining for every little bit of attention and care is on a dark path.

What really makes the movie great is how the entire world around Kat, manages to treat her with the kind of callousness that makes her turn to the dark almost sympathetic. She is alone even before he parents die, her educators see her as an inconvenience. When she hears Rose lie about satanic worship in the basement, Kat goes ahead and tries it having been abandoned by the one person explicitly told to take care of her. That’s why she tells Rose “You had your chance”

Her loneliness makes her a prime target. Little by little she unravels and makes her offering. After that we shift into the different actress. Was this just to show a more aged Kat? Is it implying that she’s just a host going through the same process? It’s unclear. But if the new girl, Joan, is the vessel for Kat it makes the ending particularity strong. Rose’s father ends up being one of the few people who show Kat kindness, ironically because Kat kills his daughter and he can’t help but be kind to people who remind him of her. He sees a connection no matter how different they look. His speech about there being no coincidences is what convinces her that the demon that was exorcised from her (against her will) might be coming back .She never wanted it to leave her after all.

When she kill’s Rose’s parents she going back to what she knew, that her demon did not abandon her like the people in her life. But the demon never comes back and she realizes she’s been abandoned after she’s killed the only person who was ever kind to her.

Most horror ends up being disappointing after a great set up but this one really nails its ending.

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