The Chilling ‘Longlegs’ Nearly Lives Up to the Hype

Directed by Osgood Perkins

Starring Nicolas Cage, Maika Monroe, Blair Underwood, Alicia Witt, Michelle Choi-Lee, Dakota Daulby

Photo courtesy of NEON

BY Andrew RobertsPublished Jul 10, 2024


Osgood "Oz" Perkins is an odd talent in Hollywood. The son of Anthony Perkins, who famously portrayed Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the younger Perkins has played supporting roles in various cult classic films like Legally Blonde and Secretary. As a director, his filmmaking style doesn't firmly fit within the characteristics of the horror genre, opting to craft atmospheric moods over traditionally frightening scares. When news started circulating from Beyond Fest in late May that his newest feature, Longlegs, is one of the scariest of the decade, it seemed as if his filmmaking career was finally finding its rhythm.

The viral marketing campaign for Longlegs urges audiences to know as little as possible going in. In respecting this desire, I'll keep the plot summary brief: Longlegs follows FBI Special Agent Lee Harker, played by Maika Monroe, who pursues a serial killer known as Longlegs, played by Nicolas Cage. Harker has an unusual ability to uncover and ascertain clues that her fellow agents cannot. What follows is a bleak satanic nightmare.

When looking at Perkins's filmography, he certainly doesn't seem like a director who can deliver a generational fright fest. Ever since his directorial debut, 2015's The Blackcoat's Daughter, Perkins consistently inspires excellent performances from his actors and surrounds them with bleak atmosphere, a sense of dread and gorgeous cinematography. Yet, he's always been a bit short on the terrifying imagery. And so, in spite of the film festival praise, the question for me remained whether Longlegs would be more of the same or if Perkins would take on new risks.

Thankfully the opening scene dispelled all worries. Perkins clearly establishes location and character, cuts to an abrupt scare and a sharp startling screech from the score, then another cut to the title card. Never has Perkins moved so swiftly. The sequence pulls us into the world of Longlegs immediately, and it's the best scene in the film (and in Perkins's filmography).

Longlegs meets two genre actors at the peak of their powers: Nicolas Cage in the midst of his endless career renaissance and Maika Monroe, bringing something new to horror in every one of her performances. Cage's last few films, such as The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Dream Scenario, reflect on his stardom and storied career. There's no denying how recognizable his name or affecting his presence is on screen at this point. Case in point, the trailers for Longlegs very pointedly omit Cage's face — his name alone is enough to get fans into theatres. 

Perkins takes this a step further by fitting Cage with heavy prosthetics, including an elongated nose, rendering him totally unrecognizable in the film. The subversion of Cage's persona in Longlegs is effectively off-putting and unexpected. Even though the looming presence and anticipation of Cage haunt the first half of the film, his typical comedic demeanour surfaces through the layers of makeup and foam. It's difficult not to laugh back when he begins to laugh maniacally because it's Nicolas Cage — hard to expect scary from the actor that brought us Vampire's Kiss

Monroe gives one of her best performances yet. She's grown out of her moment as a scream queen and portrays a hardened FBI agent with an emotional weight to bear within the film. Throughout her career, she's always had the most success with her horror projects. Most notably, 2014's It Follows helped influence the next decade of horror alongside other popular arthouse projects, and only time will tell if Monroe is on the verge of spearheading another wave with Longlegs.

As the audience slowly learns more about the Longlegs case, the narrative unravels like a work of horror literature — one character even invokes the "Once upon a time…" opener. In this way, Longlegs is reminiscent of Perkins's past films, Gretel & Hansel and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. His films contain a fascination with storytelling, fairytales and the moral lessons that are gleaned. A frequently repeated mantra in Longlegs — "Do you still say your prayers?" — seemingly provides lessons in fearing the devil.

Perkins shows great command of pacing as the intrigue continues to build with each scene across the film's three chapters. Working with cinematographer Andres Arochi, Perkins experiments with new visual elements, including film stock to show flashbacks in a similar fashion to Sinister.

Longlegs isn't here to petrify audiences — expecting the same slow, atmospheric dread from Perkins's previous projects would be more accurate. The scares upfront later divert into long sequences with expository dialogue and various genre clichés, and while Cage's performance is technically sound, it's not the as-advertised traumatic experience. Regardless, the film's storytelling and atmospheric world building reinforces the case for Oz Perkins as an emerging director of note in the horror game.

(Elevation Pictures)

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