Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Traversing the Cinematic Nightmares of Oz Perkins

Warning: the following contains mild spoilers for The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and Gretel & Hansel.

In 1960, an unassuming man stared through a peephole into the site of a looming murder and forever changed the horror genre. Anthony Perkins shocked the world as Norman Bates, a mild-mannered hotel clerk-turned-murderer in Alfred Hitchock’s iconic Psycho, but the horrific legacy of this transgressive act can still be felt today. After making his screen debut playing a younger version of Norman in Psycho II, Oz Perkins would follow in his fathers footsteps, creating cinematic peepholes with the lens of the camera. But rather than gaze into a shower soon filled with blood, Perkins allows us to peek into a variety of waking nightmares and watch as monsters exert their hideous will. The talented writer and director excels in atmospheric horror navigated by sympathetic young heroines determined to survive. His latest film Longlegs continues this trend by following a young woman thrust into a world of satanic depravity.

Lauded as the scariest film of the year, Longlegs opens in the midst of a nightmare and unfolds beneath a blanket of mounting dread. FBI Agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) is assigned to the cold case of a serial killer known as Longlegs (Nicolas Cage) and must find a way to prevent his evil influence from destroying an innocent family. While the harrowing plot may harken back to Jonathan Demme’s classic The Silence of the Lambs, the film also feels like a perfect encapsulation of Perkins’ narrative style. In addition to a terrifying world of darkness and despair, Longlegs explores the nebulous themes of abandonment, family annihilation, and unknowable death that weave their way through each of his films.

Perkins’ fascination with satanic killers can be felt as early as his directorial debut, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which concerns a demonic force invading the quiet halls of a Catholic boarding school. Left behind on a midwinter break, Rose (Lucy Boynton) has intentionally planned a day of isolation. However, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) dreams of a mysterious figure in a black cloak who brings a vision of her parents’ death. Desperate for paternal acceptance, she obeys Satan’s command to kill everyone on campus. In addition to the nuns charged with her care, Kat murders Rose and offers her severed head to the school’s fiery boiler, an object that symbolizes her devilish devotion. Nine years later, she visits the same fate upon Rose’s parents and delivers their heads to the makeshift altar. With two families in ruins, Kat’s crimes mirror those of Longlegs, her satanic devotion creating the kind of nightmares Lee will be tasked with investigating.

FEBRUARY aka Osgood Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter

In addition to its bloody gore, The Blackcoat’s Daughter shows a world absent of love. Each character mourns a shattered family connection and tries in vain to find warmth in the icy void. It’s a story Perkins knows well having lost both his parents to untimely deaths. The film ends on a nihilistic tone with the murderer’s lonesome sobs on a snowy street. No matter what horrors she tries to create, she cannot bring her parents back and now finds herself utterly alone. This devastating conclusion is arguably a reflection of the director’s attempts to make peace with his father’s massive legacy.

Perkins elaborates on themes of abandonment through death in I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, his most personal film to date. Dedicated to “A.P.”, the eerie script was inspired by an old house inherited after his father’s passing. The opening sequence introduces us to Lily (Ruth Wilson), a home hospice nurse hired to care for an acclaimed horror author in the final stages of dementia. Lily tells us right away that she will soon die in the house of Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) and we watch as she tiptoes around whatever lurks in the ominous darkness. Perkins bookends the film with unnerving shots that feel like looking through a peephole at an alternate plane of existence – a visual parallel to his father’s most famous role. Here, Perkins uses the device to symbolize a murky connection between the living and the dead, mirroring the auteur’s attempts to connect with his departed father.

Lily enters Iris’s home long after she’s lost her grip on reality. The world-renowned writer (who’s most famous work was published the same year Psycho was released) has based her iconic novel on whispers from Polly (Lucy Boynton), the house’s first occupant. Murdered on her wedding night, Polly’s body has been rotting inside the walls while her ghost roams the house trying to make sense of her brutal demise. The skittish Lily initially resists this heartbreaking tale, but begins piecing the story together as an act of protection. However, one glimpse of Polly’s restless spirit is all it takes to cause a massive heart attack and Lily too becomes eternally lost in the house’s shadowy gloom. Perkins displays the unnerving stillness that has become his trademark with slowly panning shots that plunge us into overwhelming darkness. Every frame is filled with a quiet dread that drags us ever closer to the film’s heartbreaking conclusion.

In addition to worlds filled with palpable dread, Perkins is known for charging an endearing young woman with bearing the light. Lily takes the job as Iris’ nurse hoping her crisp, white uniforms and positive energy will help to push away the closing claws of death. But the memory of this tragic murder proves too strong and she becomes swallowed by the house’s impenetrable darkness. Lee also bears the responsibility of investigating a crime long forgotten and attempts to care for victims who have essentially been abandoned by the world. Like Polly and Rose, they cry out for justice from beyond the grave only to find that few are capable of holding the horror of their unthinkable fates.

Perkins’ next film features an idealistic heroine in a world of sinister magic who must resist the allure of an inhuman monster. Gretel & Hansel is a progressive twist on the classic fairy tale, following a headstrong girl tasked with caring for her precocious brother. Turned out of their home, the frightened siblings stumble upon the ominous house of Holda (Alice Krige), a kindly woman whose generosity seems too good to be true. With nowhere else to go, the children decide to stay and begin to enjoy her lavish meals. The elderly witch seems to see herself in the assertive Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and encourages her to embrace the power dancing at her fingertips. But as this mentorship continues, Gretel begins to doubt her mysterious benefactor and soon learns the truth behind her enticing power. Holda feeds her magic by feasting on children and plans to make Hansel her next meal. Faced with this betrayal, Gretel must decide if she will follow Holda’s enchanted path or forge her own way in this treacherous world.

In addition to themes of abandonment and horrific transformation, Gretel & Hansel shares much of Longlegs’ visual DNA. Occult symbology fills each frame along with hideous depictions of unthinkable death. Triangular imagery not only alerts the audience to dangers lurking in Holda’s home, but each point represents a phase of her transformative power. Lee also studies a series of cryptic signs in an attempt to decipher Longlegs’ murderous intent. Though Perkins never explicitly states the source of Holda’s sorcery, the film begins with a distraught mother seeking help from a woman in a black cloak, similar to the satanic figures worshiped by Longlegs and Kat. Though guided by her own desires, Holda also preys on the vulnerable and encourages Gretel to sever her last remaining family ties.

FEBRUARY aka Osgood Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter

From a religious school invaded by Satan to a vengeful ghost wandering the halls of a rotting house and the enchanted lair of a cannibalistic witch, Perkins has mastered the art of cinematic terror. Each of his films create worlds of relentless dread and brutal malevolence, each more frightening than the last. Only an idealistic young woman can bring light to the darkness and even then, her success is not guaranteed. Lee is the latest heroine to navigate Perkins’ sinister brand of unrelenting horror, a protagonist mirroring his own need for truth. Her quest to save another doomed family feels like a culmination of the director’s overall message: families are vulnerable entities in need of protection and it is in the absence of parental love that the seeds of evil find a way to take root. Given the director’s nihilistic tendencies, only time will tell if Lee will follow Gretel’s path of empowerment or if, like Rose and Lily, she will be swallowed by whatever lurks in the sinister darkness.

Longlegs arrives in theaters this Friday, July 12. Get tickets now!

The upcoming serial killer horror movie marks the return of director Osgood Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Gretel & Hansel). Nicolas Cage stars alongside Maika Monroe, with Monroe playing an FBI agent and Cage playing a serial killer.

In the film, “FBI Agent Lee Harker (Monroe) is a gifted new recruit assigned to the unsolved case of an elusive serial killer (Cage). As the case takes complex turns, unearthing evidence of the occult, Harker discovers a personal connection to the merciless killer and must race against time to stop him before he claims the lives of another innocent family.

The film is rated “R” for “Bloody violence, disturbing images and some language.”

The post Traversing the Cinematic Nightmares of Oz Perkins appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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