Longlegs review – Nicolas Cage is a miscast killer in misfiring hokum

Estimated read time 4 min read

In a rather gloomy period for the horror film – a string of commercial misfires causing some to question the usually profitable genre’s long-life reliability – the promise of nightmarish killer thriller Longlegs has felt like a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Teased with an intricate campaign of the likes we rarely get in this era – withholding, drawn out, artful – buzz grew from online whispers to in-cinema screams with early reactions suggesting a bold and terrifying new original was here, sleep be damned.

Some of that promise does manage to creep onto the screen, almost all of it within the first creepier half, but writer-director Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho’s Anthony, just can’t quite edge his film into the territory it so wishes to be a part of, nestled alongside both recent indie breakouts like Hereditary and The Witch and truly cursed classics like Ringu and Possession. This isn’t Perkins’ first shot but it’s his biggest swing and ultimately his clumsiest miss, a grab bag of ideas and tricks that can’t be coerced into anything resembling a whole.

Perkins has long shown a preference for style over substance, from 2015’s underwritten debut The Blackcoat’s Daughter to his thin yet visually effective take on Hansel and Gretel, his films heavy on atmosphere and light on all of the other stuff. Longlegs follows suit, but within the even less welcoming framework of a 90s-set Silence of the Lambs-adjacent FBI procedural. A young agent called Lee (Maika Monroe) is on the hunt for a serial killer known as Longlegs (Nicolas Cage), who has taken credit for a long string of family annihilators, fathers who have snapped and killed their wives and children. The case is a confounding mystery, clouded by details that don’t add up and an unknown link that Lee herself seems to have to the case.

When Perkins keeps us in the dark, similar to the ads that have preceded, Longlegs has us in its grip, even if mostly through technique. He prods and pokes with insidious sound design and flashes of nastiness (despite the setup, Longlegs is surprisingly light on gore) and gives us a puzzle we’re eager to see finished. But then the big reveal of Cage’s killer – kept visually from trailers – crash-lands and any intrigue or even vague belief in the world that Perkins has created evaporates. The actor, who has enthusiastically embraced his self-parody era, has been disguised with such ridiculous prosthetics and performs with such outsized excess that it’s impossible to see anything but an actor in a costume. It’s akin to Nicole Kidman in Destroyer or Johnny Depp in Black Mass, actors dressed like Halloween ghouls surrounded by regular people. Given how quiet and grounded the film mostly is, set in rural Americana and cold FBI boardrooms, it makes Cage’s performance that much harder to stomach. Perhaps a lesser-known character actor could have pulled it off, but instead it’s a major misstep that the film never recovers from.

His arrival coincides with a general slip as Perkins reveals himself to be a far more equipped and inventive director than he is a writer. As Monroe, doing her best with a total void of a character, starts to find out more about the details of Longlegs’ plan, the film descends into baffling hokum, a stream of nonsense that gets sillier by the second. Dialogue is clunky and awkward, plot holes obvious and lazy and, crucially, none of it is scary. Perkins throws so much at the wall throughout, from Satanism to familicide to dolls, that his initial confidence starts to turn into something far less sure (the latter overused horror trope is particularly ineffective here). Those fleeting moments of creepiness are nowhere to be found in the disastrous last act and what started to burrow under our skin in the outset ends up flying far away from us by the end.

What’s most damning about Longlegs is that for all of its attempts to pierce our sleep and make its way into our nightmares, nothing sticks (for a cursed horror film about family annihilation that really scares, you’re better off with 2001’s Session 9). Perkins achieves two visceral shocks, but nothing achieves that pit-of-your-stomach fear that truly lingers. In trying too hard in the moment, Longlegs is awfully shortsighted.

  • Longlegs is out in US and UK cinemas on 12 July and in Australian cinemas on 18 July

Source: theguardian.com

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