Longlegs

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Longlegs
"What Longlegs has in mind worked better by implication."

A theory I will variously expound upon is the extent to which Michael Mann's Manhunter is akin to Bram Stoker's Dracula (the novel, not Francis Ford Coppolla's film where the pursuit is not of the titular count (or his equivalent) but his loyal servant. There are a series of parallels in terms of how bleeding-edge it all is, even the way that new technologies like photography and electric light help with the pursuit. Transport too, though rail timetables are replaced by jet age fare like Lears and "anything smoking". Letters remain, but they've become encrypted.

Longlegs has written ten of them. They give their name to Part One, His Letters. After a sequence framed as if vintage film, a pre-credits sequence ending in red that stretches from the not-quite one-to-one of home movies when movies and homes meant something different to film the screen. A slow stretch, rosso not giallo, but no less indicative of horrific emotion. Old-fashioned too, credits before the action, as was the style in the era. To the minute though, to something new, a 1992 and change, portraits of then president William Jefferson Clinton on the wall, bill posters. The FBI, a young female agent brought into a hunt for an impossible killer. Echoes of The Silence Of The Lambs even without the era and the aura. Agent Lee Harker (after Jonathan and Mina) brought in after a hunch.

Copy picture

A hunch that takes her to the door of 3525, a number that perhaps by happenstance reminded me of Exordium & Terminus, a wondrous one-hit recorded in a Texan cow-pasture. We're a way aways from Odessa though, up in Oregon. The Pacific Northwest that's so familiar to genre fans as Vancouver and Seattle in that same Aleutian arc have stood in for so many other places. It's the same woods as The X-Files, and Agents Carter (Blair Underwood) and Browning (Michelle Choi-Lee) have names in common with series creator Chris and a character and a town from episodes about vampires and werewolves. That might be a coincidence too. Curiosity had me run the numbers on the test that Agent Harker sits. The half she got wrong, 93% probable. The half she got right, one in 10,828,567,056,280,801. That's perhaps as much as there are molecules of carbon dioxide in 11 bubbles in a glass of cola. It's a drop, and one in an ocean. "Half a psychic is better than no psychic," but which half?

Part Two, All Of Your Things. Things everywhere. Flashes of red, snakes on the brain, not porphyria or Suspiria or Suspiriae but something pervasive. Like a fog on the brain. A sphere filled with something uncountable. Writer/director Osgood 'Oz' Perkins has an eye for composition, he has several genre features to his name but with cinematographer Andres Arochi has found stark beauties in mundanity. I find it hard to credit that Longlegs is Arochi's first feature, he's done shorts and a music video or two, but his is an eye to watch. There's a debt to Demme and Fujimoto and Mann and Spinotti but there are spaces that are found and created that I am still thinking about. A payphone stairwell is an off-kilter labyrinth, a cabin in the woods is at least as referential. That Seventies aesthetic is as perfectly trapped as The Holdovers and then we have room to talk about Nicolas Cage.

Oh my. It's him, under prosthesis, driving a car, at the table, in the past, in the present, in the basement, on video. It may even be him in shadows, through doorways, at the bottom of the garden. He does not look right. Not right in a way that makes you wonder when he says "I've got my long legs on today," if he's been forced to swap them, reconstruction become construction, something new in the ashes of the old. I've mentioned Dracula so shall say Renfield, though there's something in the pace and grand guignol that's more of Mandy by any other name. Similar geography, physical if not psychical. A mechanism whose early subtleties are let down when things begin to become unhinged.

Part Three, Birthday Girls. A Christmas movie this, technically. The calendar matters, shades of the X-Files episode Tooms with its patterning and recursion. Zodiac a clear inspiration with ciphered letters whose symbology tends towards the alchemical before any baser transmutation. The unease extends to the credits, running from top to bottom, having been before the film, that change in aspect. An uncertainty that is later undercut by revelation. That's an important singular, a contrast to the way a bedtime story says "big bad wolfs" [sic]. The devil is in the details and we get a bit too much drawn. It's rare for black smoke to convey something certainly, even when one is appointing a Bishop of Rome. What Longlegs has in mind worked better by implication, though in fairness its ending is very definitely not resolution. Bloody, yes, but final?

No fans of alternative music will struggle to recognise an image of Lou Reed, but it is Marc Bolan whose words open the film and whose music runs through it. He claimed that on a trip to Paris a wizard taught him to levitate but that was the fashion at the time. It's Bang a Gong that repeats, "dirty, sweet, and you're my girl". They've got the cover art from Rio on the wall but no-one is dancing in the sand. It's the earth that welcomes. The snow is a blanket but there's steel inside. Perhaps on the soundtrack too, the variously hyphenated genre style of Elvis Perkins (younger brother of Oz) a family connection perhaps less important than their father Anthony Perkins (of Psycho). Horror is a genre that rewards fans with referentiality, with new guises for old gazes, and Longlegs has plenty.

There are staples like dolls, "no forced entry", crypts both of the earth and -ogram, three women meet and might be mother, maiden, crone. They might be something else too. Witch half? I heard the theme for The Price Is Right and maybe it was, household goods repeated across tables in another aspect of duplication. One of the few survivors bears the name 'Camera' and Kiernan Shipka is well worth watching, suddenly and consistently on the edge of waking, childlike with that bloodthirsty abandon of ungrown responsibility. Monroe, though, grabs almost as consistently as Foster did in Lambs, though she's playing counterpoint. She's not a judas goat before a killer with night-vision goggles, she's something else. Someone who the dark sees into and out of and with. Half a psychic. Which half?

If it had stopped a little shorter I think it would have been stronger. It's thrilling, panic-inducing, jump-scares are nothing to a creeping and unfolding dread. It's when it has unfolded its dread, however, that one sees the joins, the creases, where the wearing is worn. I was delighted by it until I wasn't, but half-good is better than no-good. Which half?

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2024
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Longlegs packshot
In pursuit of a serial killer, an FBI agent uncovers a series of occult clues that she must solve to end his terrifying spree.

Director: Oz Perkins

Writer: Oz Perkins

Starring: Maika Monroe, Nicolas Cage, Blair Underwood, Alicia Witt, Michelle Choi-Lee, Dakota Daulby, Lauren Acala

Year: 2024

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Canada, US

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