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Movie Review: “LONGLEGS” is a giant step in serial-killer cinema

Wednesday, July 3, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Maika Monroe, Nicolas Cage and Blair Underwood
Written and directed by Osgood Perkins

Reviewing LONGLEGS at this particular juncture puts this critic in a bit of an odd position. The new film from writer/director Osgood Perkins is one of 2024’s great achievements in horror, a finely tuned exercise in superbly eerie atmosphere. At the same time, I feel it’s been a wee bit oversold by some of the advance notices calling it the scariest film of the decade, a movie that will make you sick from fear, etc. Expectations should be adjusted just a tad, for LONGLEGS is not a visceral rollercoaster ride that will leave your stomach in knots; it’s more like the feeling you have when you’ve just woken up from a really disturbing nightmare, sustained for 101 minutes.

It also features a go-for-broke performance by Nicolas Cage that will seriously freak a lot of people out, but that some might find simply over-the-top or even goofy. Certainly, Perkins knows that amusement is one way people might respond to him: That’s clear from a scene in which a young hardware-store worker (played by the filmmaker’s own daughter Bea) has a comically blasé reaction to Cage’s Longlegs approaching her counter. Even for the famously uninhibited actor, this is new, bizarre territory, and like all such flights of excess, it may prove divisive.

So, with small caveats addressed, let’s now accentuate the many positives and address LONGLEGS as what feels like the purest expression yet of Perkins’ teasing, disorienting approach to screen terror. There’s something that feels just the wrong side of normal about every scene, and in a genre where it’s so easy to fall into formula, it’s one of those rare movies (of any kind, really) where it’s impossible to predict where the story is going at any given moment. That’s especially impressive given that the very basics of the narrative–a young law-enforcement agent becomes more involved than she could have imagined in the case of a diabolical serial murderer–have fueled any number of past films, including a certain quintuple Oscar winner.

It helps that Perkins has cast the marvelous Maika Monroe as agent Lee Harker, whose surname, for fans of classic fear fare, conjures memories of another character who ventured into the lair of an evildoer. A decade after breaking out in IT FOLLOWS, Monroe has her best role since in LONGLEGS, playing a woman working for the FBI under Agent Carter (Blair Underwood), who describes her as “half-psychic.” That talent is a particular help in her line of work, and it gets her assigned to the case of the eponymous malefactor, who appears to be involved in a series of family slayings. They’re tied together by one detail involving a member of each family, and an apparent contradiction: The crimes seem to be murder-suicides, with no evidence of outsiders involved, and yet coded written messages have been left at each one by Longlegs.

That’s all that should be discussed about the plot, as Harker’s attempts to decipher the meaning of those letters and determine Longlegs’ identity lead her into some extremely dark, twisted territory. The audience, too, as Monroe’s riveting performance combines with Perkins’ enveloping style to keep us in the movie’s grip from first scene to last. His general approach, in concert with his superb cinematographer Andrés Arochi Tinajero, is to hold the scenes in long static shots, with occasional lateral camera moves or very slow, creeping zooms, so that we wait in dread for something to intrude upon them. Much of LONGLEGS is so composed, in fact, that when the camera does start moving–usually to follow Harker–you just know scary trouble is on the way. Perkins does employ jolting sudden edits and subliminal flashes and plays with the aspect ratio, shooting an opening prologue and other scenes in round-cornered square-screen that evokes old home movies, but these never play as gimmicks; they’re as thought-out and purposeful as the rest of the film.

Equally important is the sound design by Eugenio Battaglia, which conveys a crisp, tactile sense of rural reality, then becomes tense and nerve-jangling (as does the score by Zilgi) when that gives way to the macabre, which is often. There are truly discomfiting makeup effects by Werner Pretorius on view, both in the movie’s real time and in crime scene photos, yet Perkins elicits just as many shivers through simple, measured one-on-ones between the characters, like a cryptic conversation between Harker and a girl played by Kiernan Shipka from the writer/director’s previous THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER.

And then there’s Cage, made up and speaking in a way that hints at the otherworldly, even though there’s no reason to suspect he’s anything other than a seriously disturbed person of flesh and blood. For quite some time, Perkins doesn’t give us a good look at Longlegs, to keep us on edge about his true appearance and also, perhaps, so that we don’t immediately associate him with Cage’s extensive, manic rogue’s gallery. And it works like crazy; this is one screen psycho who frightens us not because of violent acts we watch him commit, but via his very state of being. Many movies like this build their suspense out of wanting to see their heroes solve the mystery and catch the villain; in this one, the more we and Harker learn about Longlegs and his past, the more we realize that solving the case could be the scariest part of all.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).