LONGLEGS Review: Every Frame Is A Nightmare In The Year's Best Horror Film To Date.

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
LONGLEGS Review: Every Frame Is A Nightmare In The Year's Best Horror Film To Date.

It begins with a point of view shot from a car driving up to a remote country homestead. The frame is tight, perhaps even square, giving the image the appearance of an old, faded Kodachrome slide. It’s eerie. There’s a girl playing in her yard, then suddenly a man; tall, head just out of frame, possibly above the girl’s normal eyeline. It’s clear that there’s something wrong with him, but she can’t quite tell what. The viewer searches the frame for clues, surely there’s something going on, but we and our little girl are stymied by this scene. It’s unsettling, disturbing, and creepy; and it is only the beginning of the most harrowing one-hundred minutes you’re likely to endure in a cinema this year.

LONGLEGS is the latest feature from writer/director Osgood Perkins, a quantum leap beyond anything he’s put on screen thus far, and with a track record boasting The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Gretel and Hansel, that’s no small feat. Perkins’s preternatural talent for crafting slow burn chillers is lauded and widely documented among horror fans and writers, but LONGLEGS is another level of storytelling that announces him as a truly unique master of the genre.

Maika Monroe is Agent Lee Harker, a young Fed who gets tapped to look into the case of a serial killer with some unusual modus operandi. Plucked from the pool of agents by her superior, Agent Carter (Blair Underwood), she is dropped into the world of LONGLEGS, a kind of angel of death who appears to have been killing for decades without lifting a finger. Monroe seems to have been chosen because of a facility with prediction and an ability to connect dots when no one else can see the lines, but she’s also very green and this is not your average killer.

Rarely has there been a horror film so completely drenched in anxiety and terror in every single scene. There is no wasted space in LONGLEGS. Every sound, whether direct or ambient, makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. Every room, every location, and every angle or every shot is expertly designed to induce dread. There is fear in every breath and in every silence, and even as the characters seem to start putting together the puzzle, there’s apprehension in what the next piece falling into place might mean.

The story of a young agent being tapped for a big case is far from untrodden ground in Hollywood, and comparisons to Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs are to be expected, but what is less expected is how exceptionally well Monroe embodies this unique role and places herself at a safe distance from that iconic performance. Agent Harker is a character who is in a constant state of unease; a complicated family history and an innate gift for deciphering the most complex and gruesome of puzzles that she neither understands nor really desires, all of this puts her at odds with the world around her. Monroe’s approach to the characters is angular and discomforting to watch, at times it feels like we are enduring her anxiety with her, and it’s a rare gift for an actor to elicit empathy from an audience, but LONGLEGS is a rare film.

The elephant in the room is the performance of one of the most enigmatic performers of the last forty years, Nicolas Cage as LONGLEGS. Having proven himself to be a true chameleon in films as the quietly meditative Pig (2021), to a classically campy Dracula in Renfield (2023), and even as a hyperextended version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022), it may have seemed that he’d painted with all of the colors in his palette, but LONGLEGS proves that he has hues that we have never even seen. To call it a big performance would be to undersell the diabolical nature of this villain; he’s terrifying, shocking to the eye, unbelievable and yet there he is, in the middle of this very real feeling mystery, and he’s perfect.

Each turn that LONGLEGS takes reveals a new level of terror in the story, what seems like a straightforward detective story becomes more and more complex and perversely gratifying as the narrative unfolds. Thanks to the collaboration between Perkins and first-time feature cinematographer Andres Arochi, there is never a moment that goes by where the audience isn’t drawn into the frame, searching every corner of the screen for some hint, some upcoming scare, or some figure that might put as ahead of Agent Harker. It creates an overwhelming sense of dread that I’ve rarely felt in a film, and it is exhilarating. Arochi’s work is made all the more impressive through the confidence imbued by the decision to stage almost every single shot in the film like a painting; very few dollies or handheld shots, at most the camera will pan around a space as if to taunt us, to force our eyes to seek out the things that we want to see. It would be almost cruel if it wasn’t so ingenious.

This is not just another horror film in a year already stacked with strong releases, LONGLEGS is the horror film of the year to date. The film is an experience that stays with you long after the credits roll; it’s shocking, you never know when or where the next scene will go, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, it yanks you in a different far more frightening direction than you could’ve imagined. Osgood Perkins has been waiting for his moment for half a decade now, and with LONGLEGS, he is destined to be talked about in the same breath with horror auteurs like Aster, Decournau, Peele, and Eggers, and deservedly so. LONGLEGS is a masterpiece; an unholy, horrifying confluence of high art and anxiety, a film in which every frame is a nightmare, and it’s beautiful.

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