Longlegs Review: Osgood Perkins' Masterpiece Is The Most Terrifying Horror Movie Of 2024

There's no greater fear than the unknown. Our heritage as beings evolved from organisms whose survival instinct was developed thousands of years ago means that we're all afraid of the literal and/or metaphorical dark, if for no better reason than we inherently know that danger can lie in wait within those unseen spaces. With knowledge comes logic, reason, and enlightenment, but there are still many questions about existence without answers, chief among them what else may exist beyond our corporeal forms. The conception of a God or Gods is a comforting one, but as logic follows, the existence of both good and evil in the world could mean that there is no God without a Devil.

It's that ambiguous, unresolved fear we all have about the nature of evil and its potential tangibility that writer/director Osgood Perkins has demonstrated an uncanny knack for tapping into. From his debut, "The Blackcoat's Daughter," and on through "I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House" and "Gretel & Hansel," Perkins (who is the son of actor Anthony Perkins) has made horror movies with a distinctly auteurist streak, each successive film exhibiting a pace and tone that most closely emulates a waking nightmare. The feeling of somnambulism is all over his work, making his films themselves an experience akin to being faced with the unknown.

In other words, Perkins is a filmmaker who can burrow into your psyche with unsettling power if you let him in, and his latest work, "Longlegs," is his magnum opus. It's the most terrifying horror movie of 2024, a film that gets under your skin and may never get out.

A legacy of evil

As its impressive (and highly representative) marketing campaign has hinted at, "Longlegs" is an unholy marriage of both the serial killer procedural thriller and the Satanic/occult horror film. As such, it adds itself to several highly prestigious horror cinema legacies: the investigative momentum (as well as character-centric study) of films like "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Se7en" is a big part of "Longlegs," as is the demonic dread of movies like "The Omen" and "The Exorcist."

The time periods evoked by those horror classics — the 1990s and the 1970s, respectively — are not incidental, as "Longlegs" primarily takes place sometime in the '90s while referencing (and, at times, depicting) events from the late '60s and '70s. The narrative concerns a relatively green FBI agent, Lee Harker (Maika Monroe), finding herself assigned to the case of a serial killer known only as Longlegs (Nicolas Cage). Lee's superior at the FBI (Blair Underwood) puts her on the dormant Longlegs case for several reasons: one, there's never been any concrete evidence of Longlegs committing murders, as he seemingly convinces the victims to murder each other and themselves. Two, Lee exhibits some latent psychic abilities, meaning that she may be able to connect dots that average detective work cannot.

Along the way, "Longlegs" evokes a number of other, more recent films as Lee delves further into the case, such as the analog dread of "Sinister" and the dogged obsession of "Zodiac." The tone is unmistakably Perkins' own, however, and it's something the director establishes very quickly; this is the rare horror film where the first 10 minutes of the movie may be the most horrifying, establishing a powerfully unsettling mood for the remainder of the feature.

Monroe and Cage give distinct, superlative performances

"Longlegs" isn't so much a reinvention of the horror film as it's more a series of classic horror tropes executed exceptionally well. That's not to say the movie is lacking in innovation, however. In fact, there are a few elements in "Longlegs" that feel genuinely fresh — both of them venture into spoiler territory, so I won't mention them here, suffice to say that Perkins tackles one horror trope in particular in a way that both greatly unnerved and impressed me.

What I can discuss is the way the film's lead performances from Monroe and Cage are the movie's two biggest elements in establishing its distinct identity. Once "Longlegs" releases in theaters, I'm willing to bet good money that everybody will be talking about Cage's performance as the titular killer. To be fair, the actor has been on a roll recently, a "Cageaissance" if you will, with each performance reminding audiences what a dynamic artist he is. Still, even prepped with knowledge of his incredible work in recent films like "Mandy" and "Pig," Cage is absolutely on fire here, creating a character who is instantly iconic and genuinely disturbing but who never delves into caricature or pastiche. Cage makes Longlegs otherworldly and Satanic but also, most unsettlingly, still human. This is the kind of performance that will be used as a watershed in the genre for decades to follow.

Equally good, if perhaps not as theatrical, is Monroe as Lee. While the scripted arc of her character helps the actress steer away from making Lee a bland protagonist, it's Monroe's intricate subtleties and tics that allows Lee to be just as fascinating as Longlegs. Monroe has long been a welcome staple of horror, from "It Follows" to "Watcher," and this is her best performance to date.

Bringing rock n' roll spirit back to horror

One aspect of "Longlegs" that is most exciting is the way it conflates '70s glam rock with the occult. Again, this isn't a new phenomenon; square parental figures have long associated rock n' roll (and, later, other forms of popular music that dared to be transgressive) with dirty deeds, backed up by evidence such as the Manson Family making Beatles references during their crimes. "Longlegs" has a particular fixation with the band T. Rex and their 1971 single "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," as the lyrics to the song not only turn up as a prologue title card but are also referenced in the film's marketing materials.

While horror and rock have a long history together, with everything from supposed backwards Satanic messages showing up on albums to the Bosch-like artwork adorning the sleeves for records by bands like Judas Priest, Metallica and others, "Longlegs" using glam rock in particular (instead of, say, heavy metal or industrial rock, which tend to be more closely associated with Satanic or Gothic imagery) speaks a little less to rock n' roll's historical relationship to the occult and a little more to its transgressive attitude.

To wit: "Longlegs," like the best of rock n' roll, is all about a spirit, an attitude that not only does anything go, but that the usual restrictions of form and taste won't apply here. Perkins isn't making a "shock rock" horror film to gross you out, nor is the movie some work of adolescent rebellion. Instead, he makes "Longlegs" a guitar-lick blast of cinematic lightning to the brain. After it's over, you won't soon forget what you've seen and heard. Even if you try, it'll come back — whether in your fantasies, your nightmares, or both.

/News rating: 10 out of 10

"Longlegs" opens in theaters on July 12, 2024.