‘Longlegs’ Review: Nicolas Cage Manages To Top His Twisted Legacy With The Most Extreme & Creepy Role Of His Career

Writer-director Osgood Perkins is aiming straight at his celebrated father’s status at the top of the most memorable and creepy character in the history of movies. The filmmaker’s dad was the great Anthony Perkins who of course played the unforgettable and nightmarish Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s chilling 1960 classic, Psycho. He also followed it up in the ’80s with Psycho II and Psycho III, the latter he also directed in addition to playing Bates yet again. I can’t think of another movie outside of Frankenstein that has stayed in the public’s consciousness quite this long, certainly in this horror genre.

Osgood Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) seems to be unleashing his own inner demons with his choice of subject matter, and he even has suggested that the dark story behind his parents’ marriage is partly responsible. Anthony Perkins was a closeted gay man, though married to Berry Berensen, who kept that all secret from the public and her two kids. Perkins would die in 1993 at age 60 of complications from AIDS, and Berensen died in the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in 2001. His new film, Longlegs, isn’t about any of that, but some of its themes definitely hit home for Osgood, who isn’t exactly lighting up the world with hope in the stories he tells.

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In fact, Longlegs is more a tribute and homage to ’90s serial killer thrillers The Silence of the Lambs (its most obvious inspiration) and David Fincher’s Se7en — or just about anything else by Fincher, a filmmaker who has traveled in the same corridors of darkness Perkins seems to also favor, cinematically at least.

In Longlegs, the Jodie Foster role is played by Maika Monroe (It Follows) as FBI agent Lee Harker, who has immersed herself in one of the bureau’s great unsolved cases, one that began in Oregon in the ’70s and continues into the Clinton era of the ’90s, where a series of 10 bizarre family murders has baffled investigators. They have a couple of things in common by always centering on the murder of young girls born on the 14th of a month and weirdly involve the family patriarch losing his mind and going on to slaughter their family and turn the gun on himself. Each of these cold cases also involves a clue left behind and written in code but signed simply by someone known as Longlegs (Nicolas Cage).

Nicolas Cage in ‘Longlegs’ (Everett Collection)
Nicolas Cage in ‘Longlegs’ (Everett Collection)

So how can this be, and who is Longlegs? We are introduced to his royal creepiness early on but not given a full look at him until well into the movie. Until then we only see him shot torso-style, never revealing his head and face until later. One of the movie’s most amusing scenes involves a female convenience store clerk coming face to face with him (but not us) and yelling out that the weird guy is back. It is the only encounter he seems to have that doesn’t end in blood and gore.

But Harker is slowly and perhaps with psychic intuition closing in on him as flashbacks additionally reveal her personal connection as a young child and her chance meeting with this guy. Meanwhile, she deals with her colleagues, notably Agent Carter (Blair Underwood), who suspects she has a gift that could help crack the case. Harker also comes from an unfortunate background with a mother, Ruth (Alicia Witt), who has her own religious hang-ups and twisted personality.

Cage’s presence doesn’t get presented into full view for a while, but his being is always there. When we finally get the complete reveal, it is a bizarre figure we behold with long stringy hair, heavy Baby Jane-style makeup making the actor unrecognizable and a whiny, screechy voice that hits a very high, and annoying, vocal range. It’s almost musical in its own way. If you are looking for a psychological backstory a la Norman Bates, forget it. This is a sick pup who creates porcelain dolls of his victims and leaves them as clues. He is also something of a one-dimensional creation of a Satan-loving human being gone gonzo, but also one that Cage in his inimitable way turns into art. You applaud the sheer hubris of it. Hannibal Lecter he is not, but in Cage’s hands, Longlegs is undeniably a hoot. This is an actor always worth the price of admission.

Much more grounded is Monroe, who is dead serious about her job, especially as it all starts hitting so close to home. Think a cross between Agent Starling and Lisbeth Salander and you have the template for Lee Harker. Monroe is all in on it and very good, even in the final act, when the whole thing blows up in smoke with a plot turn so over the top with supernatural credibility problems and character switch-ups it almost destroys the mood piece Perkins set out to do. The director has admitted he wanted to throw in all the tropes of the genre into this one stew: ax massacre, serial killers, the devil, dolls, dark barns — you name it. With Longlegs, he comes close to succeeding, especially for fans who want to go down these dark alleys with him. Its flaws thankfully aren’t fatal.

Shout out to Eugenio Battaglia’s effective sound design, almost a character in and of itself. Andres Arochi provides the atmospheric cinematography that Roman Polanski would love. Harlow MacFarlane’s makeup effects are all in on the assignment and just could give you nightmares — exactly what Perkins, his father’s son whether he likes it or not, probably craves.

Producers are Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Dave Caplan, Chris Ferguson, Dan Kagan, and Cage.

Title: Longlegs
Distributor: Neon
Release Date: July 12, 2024
Director-screenwriter: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Maika Monroe, Blair Underwood, Alicia Witt, Kiernan Shipka, Michelle Choi-Lee, Dakota Daulby, Lauren Alcala
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins

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