Fantastic Fest 2015: “February” struggles, but is a promising debut

 

Emma Roberts stars in "February"

Emma Roberts stars in “February”

All is not what it seems at The Bramford School, an all-girls Catholic academy where the students are preparing to take off for spring break.

We’re introduced to three young women: Kat and Rose are classmates at Bramford, Joan is traveling through the area. The lives of these young women crisscross in a way that takes quite some time to come into focus.

With the annual pilgrimage of parents arriving at school to pick up their daughters, Kat (Kiernan Shipka, “Mad Men”) is waiting for hers to show up. She’s very concerned about where they might be, unlike Rose (Lucy Boynton), who has purposefully told her parents the wrong date to pick her up so she can stick around campus a bit longer unsupervised and meet up with her boyfriend.

First time director Osgood Perkins (son of “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins) has developed a slow-paced thriller inspired by psychological horror films of the 1970s like Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.” Each time that the story seems to be headed towards clarity, it pivots. Some threads don’t work as well as others, but the film’s leading ladies help to keep things on track.

By the time we’re introduced to Joan (Emma Roberts), the picture is even less clear. Joan appears to have been released (escaped?) from a mental hospital and ends up hitching a ride towards Bramford with a compassionate man (James Remar, “The Warriors”) and his wife (Lauren Holly, “NCIS”) who find her shivering at a bus station. The less said about their journey the better, but it provides the most intriguing portion of the film.

If “February” struggles, it’s because it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. It nails the creepiness factor throughout, but takes nearly an hour for things to kick into gear. It dabbles with demonic possession and graphic violence in the latter half, but by avoiding much more than dipping its toes into the slasher genre, the payoff doesn’t fully land.

On a technical level, cinematographer Julie Kirkwood perfectly captures the frigid winter landscapes with a desaturated color palate that reflects the season and the air of melancholy surrounding the characters. Osgood’s brother, musician Elvis Perkins, also ramps up the tension with a foreboding score that hits in all the right places.

Despite its flaws, “February” is a promising debut that already has me intrigued to see what Perkins will come up with next.

“February” has been acquired by A24, who are planning to release it next year. It will screen again on at 11:15 a.m. on Monday.


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