Review: "Longlegs" Is the Scariest Movie of the Year | Miami New Times

Review: Longlegs Is the Scariest Movie You'll See This Year

Nicolas Cage is unrecognizable and fully manifested as the freakish villain in Longlegs.
Maika Monroe stars as FBI agent Lee Harker in the horror film Longlegs.
Maika Monroe stars as FBI agent Lee Harker in the horror film Longlegs. Neon photo
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Right from the very start of Longlegs, you know who the monster is — or do you?

Before the opening titles roll, you come face to face with the titular villain, played by Nicolas Cage, with such creepy intensity that the film almost acknowledges there's no point in hiding him until later. Silver-haired and wearing an all-white suit and corpselike makeup all over his gaunt, wrinkled face like a cross between Pennywise and Gary Glitter, he rides around in a wood-paneled station wagon blaring T. Rex. One snowy day, he comes upon a house and greets a young girl with a seductive coo: "There's the almost birthday girl."

Longlegs is a serial killer, and little girls' birthdays are part of his hunting pattern. The mystery behind him is how exactly he kills the families that fall prey to him. He does not commit the murders himself. He doesn't even seem to enter their homes. Instead, the father commits murder-suicide, killing his family before killing himself, with the daughter of each family having a birthday that falls on the same day every month.

The FBI has been chasing the madman for years to no avail when "highly intuitive" rookie agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) steps up to the plate. Harker has a quiet, focused personality and a strained relationship with her religious mother (Alicia Witt). She soon deciphers the Zodiac-esque coded letters signed by Longlegs found at each crime scene and finds Satanic symbols and passages from the Book of Revelation. Then she herself receives a letter from Longlegs.

That's as far as I want to go in describing this extraordinarily effective hybrid of true crime and atmospheric horror from director Oz Perkins. The film wears its influences on its sleeves, from The Silence of the Lambs to David Fincher's Se7en and Zodiac. Cure, the chilling Kiyoshi Kurosawa thriller about a killer murdering through hypnosis, also factors in, and the film's Pacific Northwest setting is cribbed from any number of supernatural murder-mystery stories from Twin Peaks onward.
click to enlarge Still of Blair Underwood in Longlegs
Blair Underwood in Longlegs
Neon photo
A veteran horror filmmaker best known for The Blackcoat's Daughter, Perkins has enough experience with the genre to know that mood and timing are often more effective than scares and kills. He blankets the film with a tension that sometimes feels unbearable and rarely unleashes any amount of blood or violence, instead letting the specter of evil and trauma do the terrifying. The scariest moments of the film are when Harker uncovers memories and family secrets that draw her closer to the truth about Longlegs.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the girl from the opening scene who encounters the monster is, in fact, a young Harker herself, and examining her past is crucial to solving the case. Perkins, who also wrote the film, wants us to see her as a sort of analogue for himself. The director has described the film as a personal examination of his unique family legacy and the pain of carrying secrets. His father is Anthony Perkins, a Hollywood and horror movie legend famous for playing Norman Bates in Psycho.

Anthony was also no-so-secretly in the closet for much of his life. After going through conversion therapy, he married his wife, the actress and photographer Berry Berenson, and they remained married until he died of AIDS in 1992 — the same era as the film's setting. According to the director, Berenson concealed the truth behind his father's sexuality (and his AIDS diagnosis) from even him. She died nine years after her husband on September 11, 2001, as a passenger in the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.

Harker is not as desperate to prove herself as Clarice Starling was in Lambs — she seems to want nothing to do with the case but approaches it with a dreadful fascination and a knowledge that only she, for some unseen reason, can take it on. Monroe, who's become an indie film scream queen after leading roles in It Follows and The Guest, plays her with quiet restraint as if she's suppressing her fear and trauma in order to keep it together and solve the case. I would have preferred to see more emotion, but it's a choice consistent with her character.
click to enlarge Still of Maika Monroe in Longlegs
Maika Monroe in Longlegs
Neon photo
Cage, meanwhile, is both unrecognizable and fully manifested as the freakish villain, whose melty-faced, glam-rock predator clown act feels instantly iconic. In recent years, the actor has revived himself on the strength of a string of wild roles, from a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack in Panos Cosmatos' Mandy to Dracula's servant in Renfield. There's something of that character (the original Renfield, the cackling vampire's thrall in the various Nosferatu and Dracula films) in Longlegs; he too serves an undying master, the "Man Downstairs" (Satan, of course), and he also leads a person called Harker toward a dark fate.

Neon, the indie distributor releasing Longlegs, has been very coy with details about the film. The film's marketing has featured everything from working phone numbers connecting to "the Man Downstairs" and cryptic newspaper ads featuring the killer's code to a trailer showcasing Monroe's heart rate hitting 170 bpm upon seeing Cage in costume for the first time. (It's a much more creative approach than Neon's campaign for Immaculate, which mainly consisted of plastering star Sydney Sweeney all over social media.)

Longlegs certainly lives up to the marketing. I am not a horror movie junkie. I'm not inexperienced with the genre, but I'm a total lightweight when it comes to gore and jump scares. Nevertheless, this movie scared me so much that I sweated through my shirt.

Longlegs. Starring Maika Monroe, Nicolas Cage, and Blair Underwood. Written and directed by Oz Perkins. 101 mins. Rated R. Check for showtimes at
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