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Longlegs Film Review: Exquisite Trip to Hell

Longlegs exquisitely portrays the feeling of being trapped in a hellish situation where it seems like outside forces are manipulating your life path.

Director: Oz Perkins
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 101′
Global Release: July 12, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

It is easy to be startled by cheap jump scares in horror flicks, but the thing about them is that they’re effective at the moment yet rarely stick around. Usually, what stays with audiences is the psychological fear portrayed in art, especially when it triggers something in the individual viewer.

For me, nothing is more disturbing than characters facing the reality that they hold no control over their lives, and that their destiny has been long ago predetermined. We’ve seen this represented as recently as this year, with the likes of Immaculate and The First Omen, and now Longlegs joins that list.

New FBI Agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe, Watcher) is a gifted recruit assigned to the unsolved case of an elusive serial killer who goes by the nickname Longlegs (Nicolas Cage, Dream Scenario). As Longlegs continues to get away from the law, Harker discovers a personal connection to the ruthless murderer and must race against time to stop him before he claims the lives of another innocent family.

I was hesitant to hop on the hype train, having seen early reactions to Longlegs before watching the movie myself. Every once in a while, people love to proclaim a new horror film as one of the most terrifying movie experiences of our day. Those opinions are valid, though they tend to build unrealistic expectations for others, leading to disappointment. While Longlegs did not scare me as much as it seemed to have scared most people – nothing in the film warrants the “it’ll keep you up at night” claims – the disgusting empty feeling in my stomach I felt watching this was, indeed, visceral.

Oz Perkins’ vision is singular and confident, building a tone that perfectly captures the evil nature of the film’s themes and characters. If Silence of the Lambs and Rosemary’s Baby had a love child, Longlegs would be that kid. Like in those genre icons, Longlegs’ tension derives from its techniques and sense of atmosphere. There is an unsettling emptiness to Danny Vermette’s production design that helps capture the hopelessness Harker feels in several scenarios. Even when rooms are packed with old clothes, toys, or dirty dishes, which should make them seem lively, it adds to the void of darkness pictured by cinematographer Andres Arochi.

Maika Monroe in Longlegs (Neon)

To say Arochi frames his subjects in ways that make them appear imposing would be a disservice to his work here. Sure, his clever camera placement results in some of the eeriest imagery in the film, particularly with the role shadows have to play in his shots. But my takeaway from the visuals is how Arochi experiments with aspect ratios. Without diving into spoilers, the opening sequence and others appear to be on a fullscreen aspect ratio, such as 4:3. By doing this, our field of view is tight and almost claustrophobic. In contrast, when we switch to a widescreen, the vast space our characters inhabit becomes dreadful and has us on the edge of our seats. It’s a fresh way to play with our expectations of where to look for potential dangers.

To be in the role of the audience, a character discovering information just as moviegoers are, is no easy feat. You don’t want your protagonist to appear clueless, but you don’t want them to be too ahead of the game. Maika Monroe does a magnificent job at balancing these elements with Harker, making us fear for her life amidst the personal journey she finds herself in when Longlegs, quite early on, reveals to know her on a deeper level. It immediately raises the stakes and introduces us to a riveting game of cat and mouse. 

Nicolas Cage is the definition of somebody who understands the assignment with his depiction of the titular character. His physicality is just as frightening as the makeup work by Jordan Crawford, Felix Fox, and Harlow MacFarlane. It’s not just old man makeup and mannerisms meant to be scary. It’s that they are inhuman, paralleling the evil that Longlegs worships. In good old-fashioned Nick Cage, he balances humor with wicked paranoia only he can pull off. As exquisite as the two leads are, Alicia Witt’s performance is worth highlighting. I can’t go into detail, but the things she expresses in the third act will have you glued to the screen.

Nearing the movie’s third act, Longlegsthemes of inevitability and manipulation come to the forefront. Although, for some moviegoers, the twists might be predictable or the plot a bit thin, the questions Longlegs poses are fascinatingly terrifying. Are our life choices truly ours, or are we doomed by outside forces? Perkins smartly gives us half answers, leaving the rest for us to make up our minds. You may not find yourself jumping off your seat watching Longlegs, but I assure you the malevolent trip it takes you through will be worth it by the end.

Longlegs will be released globally in theaters on July 12, 2024.

Longlegs: Trailer (Neon)
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