Review: In the Chilling Thriller ‘Longlegs,’ Maika Monroe Cuts Like a Knife

 This image released by Neon shows Maika Monroe in a scene from "Longlegs." (Neon via AP)
This image released by Neon shows Maika Monroe in a scene from "Longlegs." (Neon via AP)
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Review: In the Chilling Thriller ‘Longlegs,’ Maika Monroe Cuts Like a Knife

 This image released by Neon shows Maika Monroe in a scene from "Longlegs." (Neon via AP)
This image released by Neon shows Maika Monroe in a scene from "Longlegs." (Neon via AP)

A chilling, half-remembered encounter from childhood looms over “Longlegs,” Osgood Perkins’ stylishly composed 1990s-set horror film about a young FBI agent (Maika Monroe) whose past seems to hold a key to a decades-long serial killer suburban spree.

In the opening flashback scene of “Longlegs,” a young girl walks out of her house to meet a stranger on her snow-covered yard. We never see more than the bottom half of his face, but the sense of creepiness is overwhelming. The image, with a scream, cuts out before “Longlegs” properly gets underway.

Twenty-five years later, that girl (Monroe’s Lee Harker) is now grown and brought into the investigation. She’s preternaturally good at decoding the serial killer’s choreographed targets, but her psychological astuteness has a blind spot. In Osgood’s gripping if trite horror film about an elusive boogeyman, the most unnerving mystery is the foggy, fractured nature of childhood memory.

“Longlegs,” which opens in theaters Thursday, is arriving on its own wave of mystery thanks to a lengthy, enigmatic marketing campaign. Is the buzz warranted? That may depend on your tolerance for a very serious procedural that’s extremely adept at building an ominous slow burn yet nevertheless leads to a pile-up of horror tropes: satanic worship, scary dolls and an outlandish Nicolas Cage.

It’s a credit to the harrowingly spell-binding first half of “Longlegs” — and to Monroe — that the film's third act disappoints. After that prologue – presented in a boxy ratio with rounded edges, as if seen through an overhead projector — the screen widens. Harker, a terse, solitary detective, is part of a large task force to track down the killer behind the deaths of 10 families over the course of 30 years. Sent to knock on doors, she gazes up at a second floor window and knows immediately. “It’s that one,” she tells a partner (Dakota Daulby) whose lack of faith in her intuition quickly proves regrettable.

Harker is brought in for a psych evaluation that demonstrates her strange clairvoyance. Agent Carter (Blair Underwood) gives her all the accumulated evidence, which suggests the same killer — every murder scene has a coded letter left signed by Longlegs — but at the time points to no intruder within the homes of the murdered. Carter is reminded of Charles Manson. “Manson had accomplices,” Harker reminds him. Also troubling: all of the victims have a daughter with a birthday of the 14th of the month, a trait Harker, naturally, shares.

Families are prominent in the narrative, too. Harker occasionally visits her shut-in mother (Alicia Witt) and their brief interactions suggest a knowingness with the cruelty of the world. One time on the phone, Harker tells her she's been busy with “works stuff.”

“Nasty stuff?” the mom asks. “Yep,” she answers.

Scenes of dread follow as they hunt the killer in rural Oregon. They frequent the usual spots: an old crime scene, a locked up barn, an old witness in a psychiatric hospital. Longlegs (Cage) is skulking about, too, and leaves a letter for Harker. We see him fleetingly at first. He’s a bleached, pale figure who, with long white hair, looks increasingly clownish the nearer we get to him. If Manson belonged to the ’60s, Longlegs, with his Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue white face, seems a product more in the ‘70s. T.Rex opens and closes the film and the album cover of Lou Reed’s “Transformer” sits above his mirror.

Perkins (“Gretel & Hansel”), is the filmmaking son of Anthony Perkins, who famously played one of the movies’ most unsettling characters in Norman Bates of “Psycho.” The roots of “Longlegs,” which Perkins also wrote, have personal connections for the director, Perkins has said, about his own upbringing and his father’s complicated private life. But something deeper struggles to pierce “Longlegs.” Its sense of horror seems to come mainly from little besides other movies. “Se7en” and “The Silence of the Lambs” are clear touchstones. Longlegs ultimately feels like more of a stock boogeyman and big-screen vessel for Cage.

In any case, this is Monroe’s movie. Her compelling screen presence in movies like “It Follows” and “Watcher” has earned her the title of today’s preeminent “Scream Queen.” But she’s much more than a single-genre talent. Again and again in “Longlegs,” Monroe’s Harker confronts a singularly disturbing scenario and walks right in. It’s not that she isn’t nervous; her heavy breathing is part of the artful sound design by Eugenio Battaglia. Monroe, steely and strong, cuts like a knife through this almost cartoonishly severe film. Nasty stuff? Yep.



Netflix Beats Subscriber Targets, Cautions on Ad Growth

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
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Netflix Beats Subscriber Targets, Cautions on Ad Growth

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Netflix said on Thursday it added more than 8 million subscribers in its second quarter as the streaming service benefited from a password-sharing crackdown and the popularity of such titles as "Bridgerton," "Baby Reindeer" and "The Roast of Tom Brady."
While the subscriber gains topped analyst predictions of 5 million, Netflix issued cautious guidance for the third quarter and said its advertising business would not become a primary driver of revenue growth until at least 2026, said Reuters.
Netflix shares reversed initial losses after it reported results to trade up 1% in after-hours trading. The stock has surged nearly a third so far this year.
"Netflix is still the best and most profitable streaming company out there, but with technology stocks generally retreating over the last several days, some investors may sell on the generally good news and taking profits now while waiting for a possible better re-entry point for the stock," said Michael Ashley Schulman, chief investment officer at Running Point Capital.
The streaming video pioneer is facing saturation in the United States and plans to stop regularly reporting new subscriber additions next year. Investors have been zeroing in on the company's relatively new advertising business as a potential source of growth.
On Thursday, Netflix said third-quarter subscriber gains would be lower than the comparable period in 2023 when it had just started the password clamp-down.
The company also said its vice president of ad sales, Peter Naylor, was departing.
Third Bridge analyst Jamie Lumley said Netflix's advertising business "has yet to prove itself from a revenue standpoint."
"Our experts highlight that Amazon has made a much bigger splash in the ad market and Netflix needs to continue working on scale in this segment if it wants to be a major player," Lumley said.
For April through June, Netflix posted diluted per-share earnings of $4.88, compared with consensus forecasts of $4.74 a share, according to LSEG. Revenue for the quarter reached $9.56 billion, in line with estimates.
At the end of June, the new sign-ups brought the total number of global Netflix subscribers to more than 277 million.
Netflix said its ad tier membership grew 34% from the prior quarter, but it did not say how many subscribers chose that option.
"Our ad business is growing nicely and is becoming a more meaningful contributor to our business," Netflix said in a letter to investors. "But building a business from scratch takes time - and coupled with the large size of our subscription revenue - we don't expect advertising to be a primary driver of our revenue growth in 2024 or 2025."
On a post-earnings video, Netflix Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann said the company's advertising business is "growing nicely," but it is building off a small base.
"It's a meaningful contributor," Neumann said. "And then we get (to) '26 and beyond, it can be even more meaningful, and hopefully comes to the point where it's a primary contributor."
The company said it expects third-quarter revenue growth of 14% compared with a year ago.
Three years into its videogame initiative, Netflix said it planned to release a multiplayer game based on "Squid Game" later this year when it debuts Season Two of the dystopian Korean series. It also plans games tied to "Emily in Paris" and "Selling Sunset."