‘Longlegs’ Review: Goodbye Horses

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Longlegs, a serial killer thriller drenched in forboding atmosphere, making for one of the best horror films of the year.
User Rating: 8

Not unlike the way comedy can elicit different responses from people, horror is not always predictable. What scares some may not scare others. Longlegs is in a position to impress many with its unnerving sense of dread and dark atmosphere. It’s not a film that piles on jump scares, but is it primed to stick in the heads of those who embrace what writer/director Osgood Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) is attempting to deliver? Is there a proper way to deal with a film that’s mainly being sold to audiences as one with the approval of many critics already, ensuring that it will frighten them? Tough to say. Pushing beyond the notion of being a splashy serial killer thriller, Longlegs has a more measured pace to go along with the deranged elements designed to make the viewer feel like they’re watching an ongoing nightmare. Whether or not that connects with everyone, at the very least, its genre aims are designed to provoke a response, and it did a number on me.

Set in the early 90s, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a serial killer on the loose known as Longlegs. We know as much because the killer leaves behind encrypted notes and signs off with this chosen name. There are Satanic and occult underpinnings to all of this, which makes the case all the more difficult for FBI agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe). Feeling as though she has some personal link to the killer, acting fast, with help from Agent Carter (Blair Underwood), will hopefully help her uncover the truth.

See Also: ‘Stopmotion’ Review: Effective in Fits and Starts, But Never Fully Comes to Life

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As it’s pretty evident from the start, I promise to only refer to this once, but Silence of the Lambs is a clear reference point when considering the plot and types of characters we are following. That is an asset to the film, as this is not what it relies on to work. It is merely a springboard to many other ideas that allow Longlegs to function as more than just a pastiche. I’ve often expressed my admiration for the horror directors of today who have so many great places to draw influences from, but the ones who know how to stand out capture a mood that feels synonymous with their own work rather than merely a pull from others that’s been slightly altered.

Perkins has impressed me so far with the way he handles the feeling of his features. Whether it’s the wintery February period that forms the backdrop for The Blackcoat’s Daughter or the dark fantasy forests witnessed in Gretel & Hansel, there is a keenness toward building grim worlds inhabited by sullen individuals. Yet, they can be achingly beautiful given what the camera can put on display (and the slightest dash of pitch-black humor to properly modulate what an audience can enjoy). Longlegs may have its roots in a police procedural, but it similarly uses its small towns, long highways, and isolated homes as evocative means to generate terror.

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With terror in mind, let me say something about Nicolas Cage. It’s not meant as a surprise that he’s in this movie, let alone playing the titular murderer. The only reveal arrives in the way he portrays this character. Initially displayed in a way so we only have certain vantage points for seeing him, in terms of creating a new cinematic villain that is clearly insane, yet you can’t help but want to see more of this person, Cage delivers some truly fantastic work. Coming from both how the character is written and all the effort Cage puts into original takes on his roles, Longlegs is this sort of spellbinding force that one knows will only lead an audience down a disturbing path, but for the limited amount of time he’s onscreen, he still leaves a significant impression.

On the other side of things, Monroe is appropriately pent up with anxiety, horrified by some of the sights she bears witness to, yet confident and determined when it comes to solving what’s been put in front of her and applying a certain level of logic and natural intuition. The way this film weaves its narrative, seeing how she becomes more engrossed in what Longlegs is and what he’s after, is done a good service by a lead who knows how to portray the fear of being involved in this ordeal yet intrigued by what it’s all about. It’s a bit off the beaten path from what others may have done with the FBI agent role, but it works.

As a counter to Monroe, I’d argue Underwood is purposely channeling the more familiar version of this type of authority figure, which has its own turns to see. Even more compelling, however, is Alicia Witt. Playing Monroe’s very religious mother, if ever there was a way to build out a world through a character’s past experiences without doing too much to show it, the portrayal of this relationship knows how to capitalize on what isn’t said. Thanks to what Witt brings, whether or not there’s an inevitability to her presence, there’s enough to show the many possible forms of evil her character has warned her daughter about.

Beyond the performances, the level of filmmaking on display adds so much to what Longlegs delivers. It may be flashy to a point, but there are many aspect ratio changes throughout designed to immerse the viewers in ways that call attention to what’s being done but hardly distract from the story. Even more effective is the way this film takes seemingly simple production design elements and flips them on its head through shadows, dark spaces, and clever editing. As I mentioned, jump scares are not a huge part of this endeavor, but there is a shock factor and reveals that speak to the overall atmosphere and the themes at play. Even when enough is shown to understand where this film is headed, Perkins does not let up on how to intensify the viewing experience through choices made by him and his crew.

As an original horror feature with solid performances and a surreal quality to amplify the horror taking place, Longlegs is the kind of film that comes along delivering what I hope for. Perkins continues to share his filmmaking voice in effective ways, pushing the notion of evil’s existence through various means and offering little hope. Instead, dread and foreboding punctuate this feature in ways designed to get under your skin. As the walls close around the characters, the audience is similarly pushed in ways that can be upsetting, though not enough to want to exit the film. Instead, Longlegs offers a dark view of its world and invites others to take it all in. Maybe that speaks to much the praise being offered on a movie that must now live up to it, but from my end, Longlegs is a twisted fable that aimed for the kill and succeeded.

Longlegs opens in theaters on July 12, 2024.

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8
Great
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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