After she exhibits an usually intuitive nature in the field, F.B.I. Agent Carter (Blair Underwood) assigns Agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) to a serial killer case that has been mystifying them for three decades.   Although there is never any evidence that the man has been in the ten homes where entire families have been murdered, coded letters have been left signed by “Longlegs.”

Laura's Review: B

Neon has run an incredibly intriguing campaign for this film, raising anticipation for those of us who love to see Nicolas Cage test the limit of his skills, but while writer/director Oz Perkins ("The Blackcoat's Daughter") slowly builds tension in an atmosphere dripping with dread, when we finally learn just how these murders have been accomplished, it’s hard not to be let down.   It’s one thing to present a killer crazed by Satanic occultism, but when there is no back story to explain his bizarrely specific modus operandi, it is difficult to fully embrace Perkins’ vision no matter how effective his craft.  Odd decisions made by our heroine in the film’s climax and obvious information left unexplored until then also blunt the impact of the film, which appears to be setting itself up for a sequel.

After a very disturbing flashback in an old home movie format, which sees an old woody station wagon drive up to the snowy frontage of a remote house, drawing the attention of a young girl (Lauren Acala) who goes outside and is approached by Longlegs (Cage), who is only seen from his very femininely lipsticked lips on down and who declares her ‘the almost birthday girl’ in a high-pitched, excited voice, the scene ending with a loud chord crash, we’re presented with a title card announcing ‘Part One: His Letters.”  We are introduced to Lee Harker, the lone female recruit in an F.B.I. briefing room, tying her cinematically to “The Silence of the Lambs’” Agent Starling.  Out on a routine neighborhood canvas with a condescending Agent Fisk (Dakota Daulby), Lee gets out of the car and looks around, then tells him ‘He’s in there,’ suggesting they get backup.  Fisk ignores her with shocking results, but although Harker has found her man, this isn’t Longlegs, but the case which brings her abilities to Carter’s attention.

Put on the Longlegs case, Harker learns that the only connecting detail among the ten murdered families is that each had a daughter whose birthday was on the 14th of the month and the murders all occurred within six days of that birthday.  She begins going through disturbing crime scene photos and all those Zodiac-style letters full of symbols which she not only manages to decode, but connect to shapes illustrated in ‘The Seven Circles of Hell.’  Carter stops by his home, where Lee is introduced to his wife Anna (Carmel Amit) and daughter Ruby (Ava Kelders), who invites Lee to her upcoming 9th birthday party.  Back in her own home, we’ll deduce Lee has an odd relationship with her mother, Ruth (Alicia Witt), who implores her to say her prayers during a phone call which is interrupted when Lee goes outside to investigate a stranger standing in the woods.  We’ll see Longlegs parade through her lit house, where he leaves a letter.  She’ll decode it but tell no one about the incident.  She’ll also begin to hear what we can only believe is Longlegs himself.

‘Part Two: All of  Your Things’ finds Harker and Carter investigating the Camera Family farm, the one murder site which Longlegs continues to reference in his letters, noting ‘X marks the spot.’  Going through the barn, Lee finds an X beside a staircase, leading to a loft where a crucifix nailed to the floor reveals a hidden compartment holding a very creepy, realistic looking, child-sized doll, a major clue.  Lee has a disturbing visit with the survivor of that crime, Carrie Anne Camera (Kiernan Shipka), in a mental hospital, then goes through her own childhood bedroom where she finds something terrifying which ties her own childhood to the serial killer.

Those inclined to look for clues, hidden message and puzzle pieces to connect will have a field day here, beginning with Longlegs’ Church lady-like attire.  The film begins with a ‘dirty and sweet’ T. Rex quote from ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ and features their album poster along with Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ and Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ in different bedrooms.  Production designer Danny Vermette ensures that homes feature white foyers except for Lee’s which is entirely paneled in dark wood.  Lee’s often odd answers to an image association test may have more significant meaning on a second viewing.  According to the John Baptist Church, the daddy long legs spider, often found in cellars, symbolizes a defense against harm and the importance of finding balance in our lives.  And there are plenty more rabbit holes to dive into.

Sound designer Eugenio Battaglia, whose work is integral to the film’s haunted atmosphere, employs such devices as backwards recordings and creepy whisperings, while cinematographer Andres Arochi’s ("Luto") off kilter framing keeps us off balance.  Monroe, who shares the nervously pursed lips displayed by Witt as her mother, performs like someone on the spectrum, someone not quite connected to reality.  Cage, unrecognizable beneath transformative makeup and a long-haired gray wig, is memorably disturbing (and yet, I still say “Mandy” displays his greatest freaky performance).  The film’s funniest moment is provided by the filmmaker’s daughter, Bea Perkins, as a bored teenage crafts store clerk fed up with the bizarre returning customer that is Longlegs.  The film also stars Michelle Choi-Lee as Agent Browning.         

“Longlegs” is an exquisitely crafted film, but despite conjuring up such a nightmarish vibe, its narrative makes one too many unsatisfying choices.

A24 releases "Longlegs" in theaters on 7/12/24.