TIFF Review: 'February'

(USA/Canada, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Osgoode Perkins
Starring: Kienan Shipka, Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Lauren Holly
Programme: Vanguard (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF

February is the second Ottawa film this year to feature an exorcism, but at least this one doesn’t feature Ron Jeremy. February is a big deal for local film nerds because it created headlines this bleak and horrid winter when Emma Roberts chowed down on some wings at Shoeless Joe’s in Kemptville during the shoot for February. Roberts is a champ for braving the dearth of winter this February for February, since some days during the Ottawa-area shoot literally recorded temperatures colder than on Mars. The chill works greatly, though, as the grey coldness makes February a stark and chilling horror film. Roberts stars with Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka (terrific as a child disowned and then found by Satan) in this fractured tale of an all-girls school that sees grisly violence and demonic spirits.

The film features with storylines told from the perspective of three young women, Katherine (Shipka), Rose (Lucy Boynton), and Joan (Roberts), the first two being schoolmates stranded at their remote Catholic boarding school before the holidays and the latter being a hitchhiker on the run and en route to somewhere frightful. Their stories alternate at random and intersect with varying degrees as Perkins pulls together the fates of the girls through impressions and implications. Moody dark cinematography and a baroque score amps up the tension and create a triptych of unsettling psychologies for the three protagonists/killers/victims. February is a slow burn that mounts to explosive violence, and it really gets inside one’s head if one invites it in. The disjointed screenplay is often hard to follow, though, but writer/director Osgoode Perkins more than compensates with a hand at horror that scares us with icy visuals and a blood-curdling atmosphere.

If the film only partly satisfies as unnerving horror, it more than delivers as a local effort that can bring bigger and better projects to the area. February is a major improvement over some of the recent US-backed locally shot productions and far ahead of some of the Ottawa film scene shoots as it lets local talents hone their skills on a more professional scale. Production values are impressive thanks to the 100-odd Ottawa-area crew members hired for the shoot, as February makes effective use of locations and the natural landscape for moody horror. Big props, finally, go to local actor Matthew Stefiuk for facing off with Sally Draper with a shotgun.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

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