Luz is guaranteed to be a mesmerizing trip down a horrific memory lane.
Courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures
It is hard not to be distracted by everything that happens with Luz. The deliberate pacing tricks the mind. Although this film is short, clocking in at just 70 minutes including credits, it does nothing quickly. There is purpose woven into every second of this throw back psycho-drama. Every shot is painstakingly, agonizingly, and methodically shot. Sometimes that attention to detail can be maddening and others times captivating. Luz manages to do both in equal measure with every extended scene. If patience is a virtue than director Tilman Singer is an angel. From the very beginning it is clear this will be a marathon of weirdness. It’s a classic love lost scenario that acts as a perfect jumping off point for this wildly creative gritty possession movie. The synopsis is simple, a dazed cabbie stumbles into a police station and past and present collide as a demonic entity seeks to reunite with the the object of its obsession. The actual prey the actual predator…the film leaves ambiguous and I loved some ambiguity.
The story unfolds in real time that isn’t quite real. Singer’s low budget art film is a prime example of less is more. Shot on 16mm film by Paul Faltz the camera work feels timeless. It is grainy and instantly reminds of the ’70s masters Fulci and Argento. Luana Velis who plays Luz chews the camera from the beginning with her bizarre slack faced shuffle into a police station at night. Shifting from present time, memories of childhood tragedy, and recent encounters with old friends or foes depending on how you view things, Luz is a wild ride through a nightmarish landscape by way of a detour through the town of Avant Garde. By the time you reach the final destination you aren’t entirely sure what happened or how you got there.
Singer employs smart tricks to utilize the abilities of the actors instead of relying on special effects. With little to no budget it is essential to wring nuance from every line delivered in startling bursts between moments of unsettling silence. In particular Luana Velis(Luz), Jan Bluthardt(Dr. Rossini), and Julia Riedler(Nora) are fantastic. They each bring a level of creepiness that enhances the demonic tale. Dr. Rossini delivers a chilling performance as he transforms from confused therapist to controlling entity. Seamlessly shifting between masculine, feminine, and something altogether “other” he is the well from which the juicy bits of horror spring. Riedler’s Nora is feminine aggression at its most dominant. Using her sexuality as a weapon she plies the addled doctor with drink, drugs, and intoxicating stories told through crimson snarling lips. She is pursuing Rossini. He knows it but is powerless to do anything about it. Her dark tale of school age pregnancy, attempted exorcisms, mediums, manipulation, and suicide is a siren song he can not resist. We become voyeuristic puppets in a perverse Eden.
Sound work from Mehmet Akif Buyukatalay, Henning Hein, Jonas Lux, and Steffen Pfauth is a highlight of the film. The cacophony of the city pounds like the black heartbeat of the beast that desperately tracks Luz. Music straight from a ’80s Berlin nightclub assault the senses while, languages are volleyed about like canon balls launched over castle walls. Every word spoken in a myriad of languages is intentional. Words matter in a way that requires a hawkish level of focus.
Repeated phrases are far more than just distorted faith. They are questions with a capital Q to be answered by our unsuspecting players. They are also blasphemous recitations used to bring forth monsters. As much as repetition can be used for hypnosis it is also used here as a ritual. Where one begins and the other ends is the question. “Is this how you want to live your life? Is this seriously what you want?” As much a question as a test, it is employed again and again. The Lord’s prayer is converted to a twisted bastardization intent on eliciting fear, disquiet, and deep, deep unease in anyone who hears it. It also seems to be the calling card for the demon du jour. We hear both Luz and the demon in several bodies recite these words. Some out of anger and others as a form of control.
Courtesy of Yellow Veil PicturesAt it’s most basic, Luz is a love story. It’s a twisted, off the rails, seriously stalkery kind of love story, but a love story none the less. Neither Luz, nor the demon is innocent in this. From the beginning Luz’s behavior is odd. It would be easy to assume Nora/ Dr. Rossini/Bertillon is the only Evil in the room. By the end, it becomes clear Luz is just as devilish if only by complacency. Who is the one to be feared? Clues along the way give rise to the idea that the demon once lived in Luz or at least controlled her. The Devil is a master at lies and manipulation. Nora tells of her ability to convince anyone of anything. She is the medium the demon seeks. When she asked about abilities all those years ago in Chile it was the demon asking from inside her. She is the strongest medium encountered by the demon and as such she is a powerful tool to be used. Of course she also could be the actual King of Hell residing in a somewhat innocent young girl. Only the appearance of another nubile girl brings him out.
From Luz’ interactions with Dr. Rossini it is clear this is not a simple hypnotic interlude but an otherworldly encounter. The therapist is not here to unravel the mystery of Luz’ missing cab and patron. His job is to expose and inhabit Luz. To breathe her in and take her soul or at least be loved by her. As smoke inexplicably invades the sickly lit institutional conference room Luz is being held and a full pantomimed cab ride is performed flawlessly it hardly seems odd. Such is the power of suggestion in Singer’s art. By the end, Bertillon seems to be the newest host and Luz is under his spell. What that means for anyone’s future is undetermined.
The weird thing about Luz is it’s a bizarre train wreck quality. You can’t look away from. You know it is nonsensical, your patience is tested with each moment, but you are glued to the screen. Moments race by as the dark tale unfolds. Like a puzzle box that must be opened to be solved, the first move is the hardest. Once that first piece wrestles free all the rest tumble into place. The final picture looks more like a picture of Hell as rendered by Salvador Dali than a cohesive epiphany. That’s okay because Singer confidently trusts his audience to figure it out for themselves.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.