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The Blackcoat's Daughter

Emma Roberts stars in a scene from the movie "The Blackcoat's Daughter." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/A24)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- This year's crop of demon-possession plots -- that hardy stalwart of horror -- kicks off in high style with the very adult "The Blackcoat's Daughter" (A24).

Although this story gives unusually short shrift to the rite of exorcism, which is portrayed even more casually and inaccurately than is usually the case in such dramas, the filmmakers have at least taken care to show an actual demon. That's rare these days.

This one has two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and -- in another retro touch -- calls his new best friend through a hallway pay phone. So the film is entrancing for quite a while before the stabbing victims begin to pile up.

Still, writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines, all centered on a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York in the dead of winter.

There's a trick ending, which Perkins tips in advance. But, since there's a generous helping of the demon, that's no more than an acknowledgment of the audience's intelligence.

Gloomy freshman Kat (Kiernan Shipka) has had a vision of her parents' death in a car crash on their way to pick her up for the school's winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton), an older student, fears she might be pregnant, and has arranged for her folks to pick her up on the wrong day so she'll have time to tell her boyfriend.

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