Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Longlegs Review: Overhyped Horror That's Hard To Take Seriously

  • Nobody does overcranked intensity like Nicolas Cage, and you won’t know whether to laugh or scream
  • Maika Monroe’s dry, withdrawn protagonist pales next to Cage's animated performance
  • Despite the supernatural elements, it feels like a run-of-the-mill crime procedural whenever Longlegs isn’t around
  • Written in such a way that the audience will work out where the movie is going an hour before the film does

As a Nicolas Cage fan, there are few things in life I dread more than seeing Nicolas Cage films with packed theater audiences. If you've ever been to a rep screening of anything in his back catalogue, you'll know that many will overreact to even the slightest moment of intensity in his performances as if they're at a rowdy "Rocky Horror" screening, desperate for their fellow patrons to know that they are only there for ironic enjoyment. When it comes to a recent performance such as "Mandy," in which the actor's loud, wordless breakdown at the film's midway point perfectly articulates the messiness of grief in its immediate stages, the laughter can feel downright insulting, responding to a powerful moment purely as if it were a late addition to a "Nicolas Cage loses his s***"-style supercut.

While watching "Longlegs," the widely heralded new psychological thriller from director Osgood Perkins, I finally became the thing I hate: the guy who can't stop laughing when Cage journeys to extreme emotional terrain where few performers dare to travel.

Poor man's David Fincher meets poor man's Stephen King

I don't necessarily mean this as a criticism of his overcranked turn, either. In a movie otherwise so self-serious, borrowing liberally from dark procedurals like "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Se7en" but devoid of the dark humor that makes them eminently rewatchable, Nicolas Cage's decision to go larger than seemingly ever before is immediately captivating. I wish I was watching the campier psychodrama he believed he was making — a darkly comic, anxiety-inducing tale of paranoia in the vein of "Rosemary's Baby" or "Hereditary," where you don't know whether to laugh or scream with each of his movements — rather than the brooding, straight-faced mystery that never once tries to meet him at his level.

That isn't to say that the movie ever stays grounded, teasing out the supernatural details of its investigation from its opening 10 minutes. The particulars of the case are inexplicable but easy to grasp: a series of seemingly unrelated serial murders stretching back 30 years, where each family's patriarch massacred them in cold blood before turning the murder weapon on himself. What led these men to these extremes has proven elusive, with a wider FBI investigation long put to the side until Agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe), an introverted young FBI agent with a "near psychic" ability to decode the cryptic letters found at each scene, is brought in to find out who is playing God with innocent families — and more importantly, how.

Osgood Perkins approaches this material with the same clinical, detached approach as David Fincher, but without the bone-dry, nihilistic humor that ensures Fincher's movies never become simplistic exercises in grim atmosphere. But it's the surface level similarities to "The Silence of the Lambs" that make it far easier to look unfavorably at "Longlegs" when you compare the two. Yes, "Longlegs" distinguishes itself by involving a flair for the supernatural, aiming for the same blend of over-the-top ghoulishness and bleak, unrelenting dread as the best works of Stephen King, but these specificities do little but suggest Perkins is adding — in comedy terms — a hat on a hat, a needless addition to a formula already perfected decades prior.

Take the character of Lee, who feels like a Clarice Starling replica upon immediate introduction. She's a rookie FBI agent in a male-dominated workplace, in over her head as she gradually becomes the leading force investigating a mysterious string of murders. Much like "The Silence of the Lambs," the story is largely told from her perspective, her eagerness to catch the killer increasing the more she is forced to confront past trauma the investigation unearths. However, this is the big flaw with Monroe's performance when comparing "Longlegs" and "The Silence of the Lambs" — Monroe's depiction of a character repressing trauma manifests a passive, blank slate, with no signs of an interior life beyond her workload.

A dynamic killer ... and a blank slate of a protagonist

As written, the protagonist might not seem like a huge issue — the detective who is married to their job and has lost track of their home life is an archetype within crime fiction for a reason. The problem is that there's no spark of personality to make the time spent with Lee feel dramatically invigorating, holding her personal life at such a remove, her very presence onscreen only serving to distance the audience from the case itself. This only becomes more pronounced when her cold demeanor is eventually contrasted with that of Nicolas Cage's killer. The two performances appear to be taken from not just different films, but from entirely different planes of existence.

Like Clarice Starling, Lee Harker develops an emotional attachment to the case that leads her to directly intervene in the later stages of the story, but her development doesn't feel organic so much as it feels like a supernatural twist on the gut-punch denouement of a movie like "Se7en." Of course, in that movie, you'd spent enough time inside the head of the cocky, shoot-first-ask-questions-later Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) to be devastated at the sight of his life and worldview being shattered before your eyes. In "Longlegs," everything feels reverse-engineered with a bleak finale in mind, never meaningfully grounding each revelation in how we have come to perceive the character for the ending to have the impact it needs. We learn nothing about Lee that isn't relevant to the plot; it's difficult to care about a character who exists purely as a device — especially when she feels engineered to spread the most misery to the audience.

Speaking of the film's revelations, this movie has a severe case of "Saltburn" syndrome, where a late-in-the-game montage spells out all the twists and turns the movie believes it hid under the audience's noses all along — though any discerning viewer would have worked this all out an hour earlier and assumed it wasn't a twist to begin with. From the unlinked exposition dumps in the first act — each spaced not 10 minutes apart — of Lee receiving an invite to a children's birthday party not long after discovering Longlegs only targets children born on the 14th of their birth month, "Longlegs" couldn't be less subtle about the direction its grand finale will go. Add to this mix that every supporting character who acts untrustworthy is eventually proven to be so, and I was left wondering what it was exactly that other critics have found to be so shocking about "Longlegs." For me, the only unsettling surprise was the discovery that a movie featuring a diabolically unrestrained Nicolas Cage performance could be so unengaging.

"Longlegs" creeps into theaters on July 12.