A welcome addition to the current upward swell in minimal, indie-tinged horror, first-time director Oz Perkins’ February knows exactly what it wants to be. Slow-burning but never ponderous, it aims for understated chills rather than explicit scares, and proves to be one of the year’s most intriguing VOD releases, even with a final revelation that ultimately feels too predictable to be impactful.
Dividing its narrative across two locations, February predominately takes place at an all-girls boarding school. As the winter break arrives, two girls are left behind, neither having been collected on schedule by their parents. Kat (Kiernan Shipka) fears for her parents’ wellbeing (a worry that an opening-sequence nightmare about a car crash will have done nothing to alleviate), while older Rose (Sing Street‘s Lucy Boyton) seems less concerned by the delay. They’re left mostly to their own devices at the school as February progresses, with only the disinterested eye of two of the school’s “sisters” overseeing proceedings as things turn increasingly sinister.
Elsewhere, an older girl, visibly carrying with her the scars (physical and emotional) of a chequered past,makes her way across snowbound terrain in the general direction of the school. Joan, portrayed here in compelling, understated fashion by Scream Queens‘ Emma Roberts, spends much of Februrary in silence, but Roberts inhabits the role with a brooding authenticity. Joan is equal parts fragile and enigmatic, and as she makes travelling companions of a couple with baggage of their own, the film begins unpacking its own mysteries in a way that feels organic and satisfying without ever signing over any of its runtime to clumsy over-explanation.
February scores points in its decision to treat its audience like adults: questions go unanswered for long spells, and information is forthcoming only in small details at a time. Beautifully photographed, immaculately performed and guided by a confident directorial hand, this feels more like an indie drama than a horror film for most of its runtime, and while its tendency towards restraint may threaten to alienate some, this is a film that rewards the patient viewer, and may find particularly enduring appeal on repeated viewings.
February is available on VOD in the UK now. Watch the trailer here.