Exploring The Haunted Marketing Of Neon’s ‘Longlegs’

Scariest longlegs
Image via NEON

“Fun” seems like a bizarre adjective to describe the marketing for a horror film focused on a serial killer. Yet it’s hard to deny the enjoyment of witnessing film distributor and production company Neon advertise Osgood Perkins’ Longlegs, a 1990s police procedural that follows FBI agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) who is in pursuit of the titular killer (a “gleefully unhinged” Nicolas Cage). 

In a time when bloated trailers spoil entire films (or market something completely different from the final product), Longlegs marketing has succeeded by keeping its cards close to its bloody chest, opting to craft intrigue through communicating an atmosphere rather than shock with ostentatious reveals. The film first crept into the public consciousness in the form of a series of teasers Neon released at the start of this year. The footage was so cryptic (initially, there was no mention of the film’s title or cast) that some speculated that the film being advertised was another Neon horror film such as Immaculate or Cuckoo

Also Read: Maika Monroe Interview: The Star Of ‘Longlegs’ Is On the Case [July Cover Story]

Although the marketing materials have gradually begun to reveal more of the film’s plot, for the most part, the footage has focused primarily on creating a haunting ambiance and cultivating a morbid curiosity. For those who’ve already seen the film, they’ve described Longlegs as an experience worthy of its marketing. 

“Neon’s marketing of Longlegs … extend[ed] the experience of watching the movie into the marketing,” /Film writer Bill Bria told Dread Central. “The campaign, with all its cryptic ciphers, ambiguity, and feeling of encroaching dread is absolutely representative of the actual film without giving any major plot or character details away.” 

Likewise, Dolores Quintana, co-editor of The Santa Monica Mirror and freelance film critic and entertainment journalist, shared that the marketing “matched the film’s scares and tone perfectly.” Coming from a background in immersive and extreme horror theater, Quintana also shared that the marketing team has “.. [done] a great job of creating a world that entices and frightens the audience just enough to get them obsessed by what the film has to offer … [it’s created] a concurrent mythology that lives in the world of the film.”

Also Read: ‘Immaculate’ Challenges the Virtue of Feminine Meekness

Katie Rife, a freelance writer and critic based in Chicago with a specialty in genre cinema, shared a similar reaction, telling Dread Central that many of the techniques viewers see in the marketing are pulled straight from the film itself. A notable one is a scene where Monroe’s Harker watches a slideshow “of (staged) autopsy photos accompanied by recordings of (staged) 911 calls”. This slideshow effect was mimicked throughout the film’s teasers, which would frequently intercut portraits of suburban tranquility with moments of violence. For Rife, there’s a (un)holy symmetry between what audiences have been fed thus far and what they’re ultimately given. “The marketing has been cryptic, weird, and kind of spooky and that’s all in the film, too,” she shared. 

Neon demonstrating this sort of fluidity isn’t new, and in many ways, their marketing for Longlegs can be seen as the culmination of many years of experimentation. Last year, when the FBI issued warnings that director Daniel Goldhaber’s eco-thriller, How to Blow Up a Pipeline (which Neon distributed), could inspire real-life terrorism, the studio’s social media account proudly tweeted back “The power of cinema”. Furthermore, they displayed attentiveness in response when marketing their nunsploitation film Immaculate. Upon the film’s wide release—whose bloody and shocking ending angered more than a few conservative Christians—the studio leaned into the controversy for its marketing, creating a (mock) t-shirt and poster featuring some of the most incendiary reactions. Neon also partnered with theater chains to sell tickets for $6.66

Also Read: ‘Immaculate’ Review: An Imperfect Glimpse At Feminine Rage

The company’s willingness to improvise (particularly for their horror films) speaks not only to the confidence the studio has in the films themselves, but also to the level of respect it has for the audiences supporting them. Rather than take their audience for granted by generically marketing their film, Longlegs seems to have struck a chord because of the care that’s been put into its presentation. There’s a sinister level of invitation that characterizes each piece of marketing, and for a project like Longlegs, this approach plays into the core intrigue of the film, namely by making the audience feel as though they’re stand-ins for Monroe’s investigative FBI agent.

By dropping clues for viewers to uncover, from a coded message printed in The Seattle Times to creating a whole website dedicated to the backstories of Longlegs’ victims, viewers are empowered to solve the mystery at hand. In this way, they don’t feel solely marketed to, but are encouraged to take part in what is unfolding in real time. 

While it remains to be seen how successful Longlegs will be upon its wide release, there’s no denying that its unconventional marketing has expanded its reach. Claira Curtis, one of the co-hosts of the House of Cinema podcast, believes that the film is now on more people’s radars because of its thoughtful offerings. “I think the marketing had grabbed the attention of a much larger group of people compared to any other of Perkins’ films and it’s really exciting to see a director whose work I admire so much make his way into the wider conversation,” they told Dread Central. 

Also Read: Critics Are Saying They Have Now Seen the Scariest Movie of the Year

They also hope that more studios will utilize bolder marketing techniques for all their films although they highlighted that horror is a particular genre that awards experimentation. “Horror feels like the most natural place for these methods because so much of the appeal of horror is the scares it can produce in an audience. If the marketing can at least startle people, it’s doing its job to sell the film in a super tangible way,” they shared. 

As the film enters the final (long)leg of promotion, there’s a sense of anticipation for what Neon might have up their sleeves next. If you missed one of their latest pieces, you can now call and hear Nicolas Cage rasp creepy things back to you in character, and for viewers who have seen the film recently, there’s a chance they may have gotten a cryptic and coded message from a Mr_Downstairs under their review.  For Curtis, they’re already sold on the film’s promises; all that’s left is to see it.

Longlegs isn’t claiming to be a true story, but in this cryptic setup, it grounds the film in an eerie sort of reality where these things aren’t true themselves, but there is truth in what they depict, which is perhaps the scariest type of horror there is!” they said. 

Longlegs creeps into theaters on July 12, 2024



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter