Every now and again, a horror film comes along that – even before its release – is billed in seemingly hyperbolic terms as the scariest thing ever put on screen. Something so terrifying, so shocking, that anyone who goes to see it will emerge from the cinema a crumbling wreck, irreparably damaged by the horrors they have witnessed and destined to be reduced to sleepless nights for the foreseeable future.


The latest film to fall into this niche is Longlegs, which arrives in UK cinemas this weekend. In the run up to its release, it's been the subject of a slew of rave reviews, huge social media hype, and notably a number of warnings that this really is a truly frightening experience which ranks among the scariest films of the 21st century.

Directed by Osgood Perkins – who, as the son of Psycho star Anthony, has better horror pedigree than most – and starring Maika Monroe and Nicolas Cage, the film is a serial killer drama in the mould of Silence of the Lambs or Zodiac, following intrepid FBI Agent Lee Harker (Monroe) as she begins investigating an unsolved case that has been been puzzling the bureau for years.

We won't give any spoilers here, but suffice to say that what starts as grisly investigation takes a demonic twist that shifts things into the realm of the supernatural, with Harker realising she has a personal connection with the killer behind the murders (Cage). But exactly what is that makes the film so scary?

Is Longlegs really as scary as everyone says?

The short answer is that Longlegs really is a terrifying experience – albeit perhaps not in the way you might expect. Often when a horror film is greeted with this kind of reception, the emphasis is placed on it's shock value – especially in a modern horror landscape that can sometimes prioritise cheap scares over a more creeping, atmospheric kind of terror that taps into a deeper sense of unease.

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But while Longlegs does contain a couple of jump scares – including a superbly executed one in the haunting opening scene – and some very gory imagery, it's not these moments of shock that will live with you after watching the film. Instead it's the slow-burning atmosphere of dread that lives in just about every frame and the inescapable bleakness of the film's subject matter that combine to make Longlegs a horror film that really gets under the skin.

Much has been made of the decision to largely omit Cage from the film's promotional material – no stills of his character have been released ahead of the launch and he appears only very fleetingly in the trailer. This turns out to be a very wise choice on the part of the publicity team, ensuring the audience can't get too used to the way Cage looks in the film before we are introduced to him in that aforementioned first scene, initially from the neck down before we are shown his face.


In keeping with that deliberate sense of mystery, we won't be divulging a detailed description of his look here, but we will say that there are prosthetics involved. And while it wouldn't be accurate to say that Cage looks unrecognisable under that make-up, his altered look adds to a sense of the uncanny that further amps up the fear factor.

Indeed, that uncanniness is key to what makes the film such a psychologically scary ordeal – there's a certain weirdness to Cage's character's scheme and to much of Perkins's imagery that gives the whole thing an inexplicable, off-kilter, nightmarish quality that plays into the subconscious and is far more effective than pure gore or violence.

As to the film's exploration of evil, there's something about the feelings it evoked that reminded me of some of the work of David Lynch. Although stylistically different, the way evil is presented almost as a supernatural entity which is nonetheless rooted in the everyday, brought to mind Twin Peaks's Bob, instilling a similarly chilling feeling of sadness and helplessness.

It all adds up to ensure that Longlegs really is one of the finest – and scariest – horror films of recent years. Just don't go in expecting a mainstream movie packed with a series of jump scares – instead embrace the creepy, slow-burning atmosphere that Perkins has crafted. And maybe sleep with the lights on for a couple of weeks afterwards.

Longlegs is released in UK cinemas on Friday 12th July 2024.


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