Long on style long on suspense

What the hell did I just watch? One of the best horror films of the new millennium is what.

There’s so much going on in Longlegs that you process the allusions to other films with the same speed you admire the originality on display.

Can anybody really claim to make a new take on psycho behavior after Fritz Lang’s M? That was 1931 and it’s 2024 and Longlegs certainly delivers as fresh a take on procedurals as has come down the pike.

Longlegs, set in the ’90s, revolves around a distaff FBI agent investigating a series of murders that have taken place over decades. We know the time frame because in the present there’s a portrait of Clinton on the office wall of the lead agent Carter (Agent Carter played with sophistication by Blair Underwood). In flashbacks the portrait shows Nixon.

Nicolas Cage as Longlegs delivers a performance that will be on his career reel. It’s not the hammy kind of Cage we’ve seen in recent films like Renfeld and yet it’s on another level from his elevated acclaimed turns in films like Pig and Mandy.

We see Longlegs in an opening shot but the frame is a medium close-up shot from the bottom of his nose down to his torso. Not unlike you’re watching a kid’s cartoon where the adult characters are always shown from the neck down.

Longlegs is divided into chapters. Longlegs the killer with a pale face and pale hair really is a supporting character in the narrative sense and in the amount of screen time he creeps. Cage works his mystery identity with the help of obscure framing. Even Anthony Hopkins in his Oscar® winning role as Hannibal Lecter seemed hemmed in by his surroundings whereas Cage floats above any concept of where you think the story is about to go.

There’s the sensibility of Michael Mann and David Fincher (Manhunter and Zodiac come to mind) yet there’s still the spector of Lang. Director Osgood Perkins finds ways to mine emotional reactions from his audience by taking previous genre elements and mixing them like a juggler seen from an arial perspective.

There was also a hint of David Lynch in the tone of a specific revelatory scene; in fact one of the major players (Alicia Witt in an unforgettable performance) made her debut as a child actress in Lynch’s Dune. There’s also the facial recognition fetish of cultural touchstones of the ’70s like Lou Reed “Transformer” and Marc Bolan “The Slider” or even the ever sought after Patrick Nagel art that was de rigueur in every hipster home.

The opulence of the production only enforces the notion that a second viewing will reveal new ideas. Perkins straddles a line established by films from the ’80s and ’90s and blends with modern horror tropes. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention perhaps the most obscure film of this genre, the 1998 Denzel Washington horror/thriller Fallen.

A deep dive into Perkins would include his previous acclaimed but under appreciated films The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Gretal and Hansel. See where we’re going here? Perkins is an iconoclast.

The elated feeling walking out of Longlegs made every encounter with art better. Elton John on the theater lobby speakers warbling “Saturday Night’s Alright For A Fight” never sounded more profound; the marquee posters, digital and ever moving, came alive; Del Shannon on the car radio on the ride home getting struck by lighting never sounded better. Good art makes all art stand out.

Oh yeah, Perkins also acted in films including a pivotal role in Legally Blonde (2001) as Dorky David.

Osgood of course is the son of Anthony Perkins and while Dad is known for Psycho he also played crucial roles in movies about law school and baseball and WWII and mansions. Anthony Perkins may be the only person in the history of the world who ever walked away from an LSD bust in 1984 (at London’s Heathrow Airport) when that offense was a life sentence in most countries. He also was charged with possession of marijuana because for heaven’s sake we all know you need a little pot to come down off a trip.

Longlegs is DMT compared to the dull langour of most modern genre twisting horror tropes. In the end Longlegs asks the audience to ride with the devil with ambiguity as to whether the object of the trip is ascendence or insanity.

Maika Monroe headlines as Lee Harker. Her character is rightfully a combination of the judicial curiosity of Lee Harper (To Kill A Mockingbird) and Jonathan Harker (a character in Stoker’s Dracula). She has a steely determination but you ask yourself if she can sustain her objective glance when it becomes apparent she’s merely a token player in the realm of Longlegs.

Cult films are born to be recognized as such. Longlegs will certainly become a go-to watch for suspense/horror buffs and will certainly trounce its opening weekend competition Fly Me To The Moon.

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