Longlegs – Sinister Horror

The sinister magic of Longlegs is knowing that you experienced it in your full waking life, only to carry it with you so it can seed your dreams.

Over the course of his visionary career, Perkins has established himself as a master of dark tone poems.
From I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House to Blackcoat’s Daughter and more, the writer and
director has demonstrated his ability to weave together bleak fairy tales even when he isn’t putting his
own spin on Hansel and Gretel.

Through Longlegs, the writer and director – with a complex relationship to Hollywood and horror – has created his own mythic specter for entry into the pantheon of genre villains.

“It’s sort of like a horror movie mixtape,” Perkins says, describing his film. “This movie really does have
kind of everything in it when it comes to the expectations of the genre. There’s an axe massacre. There’s
a serial killer. There’s the devil. There’s the FBI. There’s creepy dolls. There’s creepy barns. So it really
has this kind of milkshake quality to it of having everything in it.” Longlegs tells the story of Lee Harker
(Maika Monroe), a newly minted FBI agent who lives in the green and grey temperate rainforest of
Oregon, and who, in her earliest days on the job, susses out a murderous perp through an uncanny level
of perception. For a director heavily inspired by Silence of the Lambs, Harker emerges as his Agent Starling.

In pursuit of a serial killer, an FBI agent uncovers a series of occult clues that she must solve to end his
terrifying killing spree. Agent Harker is quickly assigned to a case that’s been stymying the Bureau for decades, a file full of murders that have played out the same over and over again. A father kills his entire family and then takes his own life. Different houses, different people, different murder weapons, but a signature left behind at each scene denoting the existence of one common figure among the tragedies. He writes messages in code for authorities to find, but signs them with the same name every time: Longlegs. Whoever or whatever Longlegs is, they leave no trace, no fingerprints, no physical evidence. All the kills have been definitively carried out by a member of the house, but responsibility seems to sit with the figure connecting them all together. Longlegs.

Once Agent Harker is handed the case file and tasked with decoding the ciphers in evidence, Longlegs slowly sweeps over the film like a fog, chilling the air and obscuring the shape of things previously known. He is nowhere, but he is inescapably all places at once. Agent Harker can’t see him, but she begins to hear him and almost feel him in the atmosphere.

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“In early responses to the movie, people are saying, ‘There’s something within this movie that’s in and of itself unholy,’ and it’s kind of coming through the pores of the movie,” Perkins told actor Nicolas Cage in a conversation for Fangoria. “It’s coming through the sprockets of the film that we shot.” To which Cage added, “People are going to come away from the movie asking themselves, ‘Have I just been cursed?’”

“Obviously, Silence of the Lambs is a massive influence in this film just as a whole,” says Monroe, who also pulled inspiration from other dark crime thrillers that she loves. “But I pulled a lot from Rooney Mara’s Dragon Tattoo. There were similarities in the way they both felt like outsiders in this world and didn’t know where they fit in, but the only place that made sense to them was solving these crimes.”

A key detail about what makes Longlegs feel so haunted is the way the film sounds. And while it’s obvious that evocative sound design and a chilling score are intrinsic to the success of any good horror movie, the subtle and subconscious-level cues in Longlegs are what give the movie its pervasive aura of danger. From the very start, footsteps feel uncomfortably loud, which emphasizes the paranoid feeling
of being watched and followed as the movie unfolds. Our characters inhabit spaces that are still and
serene, even when they become tableaus of carnage, and that turns any noise punctuating the quiet
into a sonic attack.

Sound designer and supervising sound editor Eugenio Battaglia is a passionate horror fan, particularly
where it involves Satanic stories, and his past work on narrative podcasts taught him how to move a
story and create a scene without images to rely on. That was perfect training for working on a scary
movie, where Battaglia also knew his material would take center stage.

“As a sound designer, I like how much control sound has over a horror film,” he says. “It’s like the most instrumental part of it.”

All that put Longlegs right up his alley, and when Battaglia first got the call to work on the film, his brain
started cycling through ideas he’d always wanted to try. He immediately picked up on the recurring
theme of rock and roll throughout Longlegs, and Perkins co-signed the idea to populate its soundscape
with elements both “hypnotic and subliminal.” He drew on the historic linkage between metal and the
occult for inspiration. “I’ve always wanted to try and do subliminal sounds,” says Battaglia. “In old 70s
records or all kinds of rock and roll records, there’s all these backwards recordings and subliminal stuff
that has to do with satanic things.”

And because Longlegs has the pervasive sense of being ensconced in malevolence, Battaglia used a
binaural microphone to capture sounds for a realistic 3D effect that could envelop the listener. He’d
whisper into it or rub the windscreen and then filter the recordings to create ASMR-like sounds that
would put him in a kind of trance state. That way he could break the trance for audiences with sharp
sounds and jarring interruptions.

This process of folding in buried meanings went hand in glove with the over-arching theme of the film,
which is the powerful ability to obfuscate dark truths with dogmatically repeated fictions — specifically
where it concerns the stories parents tell their kids, and the work kids have to do of unwinding those
stories once they become adults.

“What it’s about is the power we have over our children to shape their perception of things,” says
Perkins, who connects that experience back to his own upbringing, the things that were kept out of view
from him and his brother. “About the fact that moms can lie to their children and think that it’s a good
thing. Sometimes their back is against the wall, and they have to lie to their kids. The mythology of a
family, the cover story of a family that is created by the mother in service of the child.”

The filmmaker calls Longlegs a movie with “many veils,” layers of gossamer-thin fabric wrapped around
so many times that the reality beneath them becomes opaque, keeping the onlooker from seeing what’s
really there even if it’s placed directly in front of them. This is true of Agent Harker’s perception of her
childhood, and it’s true of Longlegs himself, in both a literal and figurative way.

Elusive as he is, Harker and Longlegs are profoundly connected. She pursues him to solve the murders,
but at the same time it feels as though he’s beckoning the agent towards him. Harker cannot see
Longlegs, but he is holding her hand, and as she goes further into the mystery, further into her past and
closer to its answers, the film technically bolsters its hero’s inward journey.

Cinematographer Andres Arochi with director Osgood Perkins during the filming of Longlegs.

An aspect ratio that Perkins describes as “big and wide” begins to swallow Harker up. The expansive open frames take on an air of ominous possibility. Who or what will emerge from the space around her?
Of the decision to often surround Monroe within so much emptiness, cinematographer Andres Arochi
says, “I think this was created specifically for Lee Harker. It started through the protagonist; then we
took it to everyone. It was like the idea of the universe where the characters lived.”

Watching Longlegs feels like having a spell cast over you — like you’ve been swept up by a curse, as Nicholas Cage says — but even magic itself is art and science. It’s the right alchemy of skill, intuition, tools, temperament, dedication and intention. A movie arriving into the world for people to see is a kind of miracle, to be sure, but not divorced from Herculean effort by everyone involved. In discussing how he
makes his miracles come together, Perkins doesn’t really get into the weeds of things. But it’s not because he’s obfuscating. It’s just because, as he says citing his 15-year-old daughter, it’s really not that deep.

Osgood Perkins made his directorial debut with the horror film The Blackcoat’s Daughter. He also wrote and directed I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. In the early stages of his Hollywood career, Perkins worked in series television while getting his start in acting and acted in film comedies such as Legally Blonde. He kept working in film throughout the early 2000s, starring in James Spader’s Secretary. More recently, he played roles in the sci-fi sequel Star Trek, and Nope.