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The scariest horror film of the year is here

Long legsa crazy new film about a movie monster for the ages, is impressively scary.

Maika Monroe in “Longlegs”
Neon

To know a person’s taste in horror movies, I ask a simple question: are you looking for rules or mood? If Freddy Krueger attacks teenagers in their dreams, are you interested in knowing the details? How he does that – or do you want to expose yourself to indescribable terror? Italian yellow Movies typically happily – and sometimes incoherently – forgo plot details, while many American slasher films often focus entirely on the motivations and methods of their deadly protagonists.

I am painting with a broad brush here, but I was particularly impressed by the dichotomy of rules and moods when watching Long legsa freaky new horror piece from director Osgood Perkins. Perkins, a son of legendary actor Anthony Perkins (best known for his role as Norman Bates in Psycho), has made a number of interesting small-budget productions over the last decade, including the boarding school thriller The Blackcloak’s Daughter and the fantasy film Gretel & Hansel. But Long legs is being positioned as a breakthrough by its distributor Neon, which has launched a slick marketing campaign focusing on the film’s abstract, frightening imagery – an approach that has been in line with previous arthouse horror hits such as The Babadook And The witch.

Although Long legs has plenty of atmospheric horrors, but never sinks into complete surreality, instead charting a path exactly between mood and rules. It is The silence of the Lambs meets Hereditarya story about a serial killer being pursued by the FBI, which weaves in a certain satanic panic and unexplained psychic powers. The main character, Agent Lee Harker (played by Maika Monroe), is a steely and sensible young federal agent, modeled on Clarice Starling. But what the FBI finds most fascinating about Lee is not her competence, but the fact that she is naturally knowledge where you can look for terrible things.

The film opens with a tense scene showcasing Lee’s strange gift, prompting the FBI to assign her to Agent Carter (Blair Underwood). Carter is on the trail of a serial killer known only as “Longlegs,” a mysterious figure who, without ever being present at crime scenes, seems to convince families to commit gruesome murder-suicides, instead leaving cryptic notes in Zodiac-like code. Much of the film takes place in this reliably unsettling world: Federal agents in suits grimly analyze evidence, detachedly leaf through gory murder photos, and ignore their personal lives as they try to get inside the killer’s head.

Yet from the first minute, Perkins suggests there’s more to Lee’s psychic abilities than that, and that she may have a connection to Longlegs that goes back to her childhood. Perkins isolates her as often as possible in the frame, making it clear what a lonely and curious creature she is, while also emphasizing the sense of danger lurking on all sides. Lee lives alone in a cabin in the woods, where it’s easy to imagine intruders; outside the office, her only other human connection is her mother Ruth (Alicia Witt), who speaks in cloying non sequiturs and repeatedly asks if Lee has said her prayers.

All of this is impressively creepy stuff. Perkins builds the atmosphere and aesthetic perfectly, putting the viewer in Lee’s nervous mindset and making her work seem oppressive. As Perkins ratchets up the paranoia, however, he also drives the actual investigation forward – and the more “facts” come to light, the more the audience might lose track Long legsThe details of How It’s harder to comprehend that these bad things happen, but most importantly, Perkins ends up having to live up to the expectations of Longlegs himself, played by Nicolas Cage.

Although Cage’s name is all over the film’s advertising, his image isn’t. Perkins and Neon have wisely built up a real suspense about what exactly the Oscar winner is up to as the title character. If you know anything about Cage, the answer won’t surprise you: He does a whole lot. I won’t go into too much detail, but the character is broad, theatrical, and visually impressive, an attempt to create an unforgettable modern movie monster that depends entirely on how you feel about Cage turning the hysteria up 100 percent.

What I appreciate about the third-act twists, as Lee fleshes out her connection to Longlegs and his approach becomes clearer, is how silly they are: a burst of vaudeville glitz thrown at an otherwise moody, artistic work with terrifying tonal control. The sharpness of this twist may not be for everyone, nor may the shift from pure atmosphere to a bizarre attempt to explain everything. But rather than dump a bunch of inexplicably creepy stuff into the audience’s lap, Perkins presents a perspective that strikes me as deeply personal; without giving anything away, there’s a sensible explanation for everything that’s going on. Less is left to the imagination, but it becomes obvious that these are horror stories that have concrete, emotional inspirations and are worth all the hype.

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