“Longlegs” – a masterfully crafted horror thriller – Longmont Times-Call

Maika Monroe plays the lead role in “Longlegs.” (Neon/TNS)

Katie Walsh | Tribune News Service

Oz Perkins’ eerie, occult serial killer horror thriller Longlegs begins with a psychologically harrowing sequence barely a minute or two long, in which he uses composition, editing and acting alone to create a chilling sense of shock, awe and disorienting humor. The viewer is left unsettled to the core, and the tension then bursts like a soap bubble on a brilliant musical cue.

It’s scary just because of the way it’s formally presented, not necessarily because of the basic actions or images on screen, and it’s thrilling because from the start Perkins announces his bold use of tone as well as his mastery of cinematic techniques for creating suspense. The tension never lets up in Longlegs, though it’s peppered with a dry, black humor that somehow just makes the whole thing more unsettling.

For the best viewing experience, one should know as little as possible about Longlegs: you can stop reading now if you want to experience 100 minutes of a completely unpredictable plot and a sense of repulsive dread coupled with dark humor (and that’s what it is). But we’ll continue here, because Longlegs is simply too rich a text to decipher, and the obstacle course of writing around its true horrors is a worthy challenge.

While the comparison is obvious, Longlegs feels like Perkins’ The Silence of the Lambs in that it follows a young FBI agent playing cat and mouse with a serial killer (there’s also a shared enthusiasm for ’70s British rock on behalf of our respective bogeymen). Special Agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) has the supernatural abilities and drive of Clarice Starling, and both characters similarly fail to hide their vulnerability through toughness, albeit in different ways.

Blair Underwood in a scene from the movie
Blair Underwood in a scene from the movie “Longlegs”. (Neon/TNS)

Harker is not a people person, but she is very intuitive and maybe even a little psychic. It is precisely because of this quality that she is recruited by Special Agent Carter (Blair Underwood) to re-investigate the unsolved case of a series of possibly related family destructions for which a person known as “Longlegs” has claimed some kind of responsibility through encrypted notes. As she delves deeper into the research, it turns out that Harker is strangely connected to these cases (is she psychic or are they memories?).

Nicolas Cage plays a strange suspect in one of his most flamboyant and unrecognizable performances. He’s brilliant and clearly having a blast committing himself wholeheartedly to his crazy and terrifying choices (though Cage has always gone above and beyond in every performance). Alicia Witt also appears as Harker’s mother, with whom the agent has a close but complicated relationship. Monroe, with a kind of quiet sullenness, is the eye of the storm of these colorful characters, including their bombastic boss Carter.

The performances go hand in hand with the astonishingly careful and precise filmmaking. Perkins (the son of “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins) has a wonderfully methodical eye for shaping cinematic images and sounds. With cinematographer Andres Arochi doing magic with the structure of light, Perkins centers Harker in carefully composed shots in which she is dwarfed by the surroundings, emphasizing her smallness and sense of overwhelm. The camera alternates between objectively observing our protagonist and focusing on her intuitive point of view and actions. Slow, creeping zooms mimic her vision, and reverse shots constantly put her in danger, her gun always in hand.

The camera exudes an omniscient, ominous certainty that cannot always be trusted, but repeated shots and scenarios suggest connections and comparisons between different characters and across time, giving the filmmaking an internal rhythm even as the story defies traditional logic.

Longlegs is also a masterpiece of production design (by Danny Vermette) and set decoration (by Trevor Johnston), suggesting a time and place (mid-1990s, mid-Atlantic) and filling that world with relevant visual information. Perkins also fills the cast with interesting and memorable supporting roles that make the world of Longlegs bigger, richer, and stranger, and help us better understand the characters by seeing how they interact with the world around them.

However, on a macro level, Longlegs doesn’t give easy answers to its own questions. Watching it feels like a puzzle, the film itself like a code to be cracked, and by the end, the whole puzzle isn’t solved. That’s OK. Understanding everything isn’t the point of a film that offers such a delicious rollercoaster of bad vibes. Just get on board and let Perkins guide you – the journey is more than worth it.



4 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for bloody violence, disturbing images and some language)

Length: 1:41

How to watch the film: In cinemas from July 12th


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