As FBI agents mention the final book of the Bible, one calls it “Revelations.” Then “semi-psychic” Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) corrects them. “Revelation. Singular,” she says, eyes glued to the ground as she pivots past, but not toward, the camera. It’s the mid-1990s and unsolved Satanic killings have resumed in the Pacific Northwest. Harker has been assigned the case and, with a talent for cryptology and patterns, spends evenings examining the perpetrator’s Zodiac-like letters. But Longlegs is a cold film, and Harker doesn’t anticipate too many findings. Again: “Revelation. Singular.”

But that thing to uncover, whatever secret to decode, doesn’t really matter. Osgood Perkins’ latest opens with a flashback of Longlegs himself (Nicolas Cage) approaching a then-unknown little girl. From moment zero the audience has already seen the killer. Better yet, they’ve already observed him and generally know what to expect. It doesn’t help, then, to jump forward about two decades when the opening is so fresh, or to force the film into three chapters. This is not a poorly made film, but viewers aren’t with Harker. They’re ahead of her.

Perkins’ previous films, such as The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, worked because they eschewed the very pretense of a story that would otherwise drag them down. By living and dying on tame procedural, Longlegs fails to evoke any strong emotion. Perhaps that’s partially by design: Perkins seems intent, if not particularly careful, to emulate his protagonist in style and form. Harker is quiet and attentive, and the mise-en-scène invites audiences to follow suit. The issue is the degree to which the script introduces and discards portions of itself. Those Zodiac-type letters? Solved way too quickly, and out of the movie they go.

When there’s only so much to investigate, that leaves the surface to deconstruct. Perkins and cinematographer Andres Arochi maintain a crisp, digital look that, despite its proficiency, inspires little participation. For a movie about an FBI agent that specializes in detail, the effect is ultimately numb. (On the other hand, a barrage of wide-angle shots gets repetitive, nearing the point of irritation.) Eugenio Battaglia’s sound design lends as much temperature to the picture as the visuals do. It also eclipses Zilgi’s score that, in its few occurrences, broadly gestures to The Shining above all else.

That leaves Monroe as the face of the movie, and she does fine work for a role that oscillates between subdued and oversimplified. Her delivery, slightly syncopated against a generally flat affect, bears Longlegs’ closest things to a human center. Her mother, a hoarder named Ruth (Alicia Witt), lends a semblance of an interpersonal dynamic, but the script only approaches her when strictly necessary, rendering her a tool more than a character. Fellow agents (Blair Underwood, Michelle Choi-Lee, Dakota Daulby) are inert in their own rights, existing in contrast to Harker before serving any narrative or thematic purpose. They’re just there.

As for Longlegs himself: Cage has fun figuring out what Buffalo Bill would be like if Jim Carrey played him. So it’s peculiar, if minorly subversive in one aspect, how little the movie focuses on him. He’s an abstraction who, given how incidental the mid-‘90s setting and glam-rock motifs are, grounds the experience of watching the film. Longlegs has a sense of humor despite how frigid it is. How it stands against Harker and her worldview suggests a missed opportunity.

That distinction between order and chaos, the conflation of performances as Graham Fortin and Greg Ng edit between them––something exists within its madness. But the script telegraphs itself too openly to surprise, too clean to ever feel absurd. Harker being “semi-psychic”? That doesn’t come to much; it’d be a cop-out if it didn’t feel like such a put-on. It’s after a while that Perkins’ script veers that direction, yet the mystery and characters it comes to implicate ultimately underwhelm.

Most of the work points toward something, anything, to elicit a strong reaction whichever way. That doesn’t come. It’s not that Longlegs doesn’t make sense of its parts, or that it lacks, as Harker alludes, even a singular revelation. It’s that it seems to think the most basic twist possible counts. Even with its jagged accents, the pieces are just too clean.

Longlegs opens on July 12.

Grade: C

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