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Longlegs: Oz Perkins and Nicolas Cage Find Sympathy for the Devil Worshipper

“If there’s anything interesting about devil worship in America, it’s that it’s sort of fundamentally misunderstood,” Perkins says. “It’s like people who believe in QAnon think that devil worship is eating babies, right? And devil worship is definitely not eating babies. It’s just being the upside-down version of everything else and kind of moving away from the puritanical resistance that religious people inflict.”

A movie like Longlegs, then, is less a literal movie about devils, and more an insidious exploration of how people can be compelled (or allow themselves to be compelled) to do truly evil things. Cage, for instance, talked a lot with Perkins about the performances of Lon Chaney Sr. while developing the heightened countenance of Longlegs, while the people his presence affects are filmed by Perkins in often detached wide-angles. The filmmaker likens his compositions and filmic language to crime scene photographs.

“Crime scene photographs are the epitome of matter of fact,” Perkins explains. “It’s a document, it’s not an artwork; but that makes it an artwork. Like an Ed Ruscha photograph of an old apartment building is just a picture of an old apartment building, but because he chose to make it and because he chose to make it in this non-critical way, it has a new life to it. So we created all these crime scene photograph (images) in a very matter of fact way… Everything is sort of from here. That to me expresses, ‘Oh, this is going to happen no matter what.’ There’s an inevitability to bad things happening when you maintain a sort of distance of observation.”

Still, one of the unnerving things about Longlegs is its ability to hone in on unnerving images that are sometimes almost subliminally edited into the picture, and often in extreme close-up. There are even images that might stem from Perkins’ own subconscious. For instance, it is hard to miss a vision Lee Harker has of blood spinning down a drain and not think of the Longlegs director’s father, actor Anthony Perkins.

“We went out to shoot the snakes at a snake preserve outside of Vancouver,” Perkins says of developing some of the flashing subliminal images meant to signify evil in the movie. “And we just (filmed with the lens looking) into a sink when they took the snakes out. And (we go), ‘Oh, it looks like Psycho!’ It’s just there and you might as well get it.” It’s an image that certainly means something to Perkins’ own upbringing, but the director says its inclusion in a movie like Longlegs stems from his style of direction, which is entirely about catching natural, unexpected moments of inspiration.

“My job as director, once it’s a script and then once it’s been developed by the departments in pre-production, my job as director on the set is to watch and to see things when they happen. And if I see something, I say something.”

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