MOVIES

Overhyped Horror That’s Hard To Take Seriously

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.

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