LuzReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/29/18 15:59:01
SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Tilman Singer's "Luz" is the sort of film that I suspect makes other filmmakers envious: How many of them, when they were students and able to be a little self-indulgent, were able to make something good enough to cause a stir at festivals? This one is a heck of a nice bit of art-house horror without that qualifier, but for the work of someone explicitly learning the ropes (beyond how everyone is always learning as they create), it's a heck of a starting point.The film's own starting point is attention-grabbing - closed-circuit footage of a young woman stumbling into a police station and starting trouble, practically begging to be locked up. She's Luz Carrara (Luana Velis), a Chilean immigrant who now drives a cab in Berlin. The police oblige and call in Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) to give her a psych examination where she recalls a seance she and friends did back in Catholic school when her friend Margarita (Lilli Lorenz) thought she was pregnant, but was actually host to something else - something which has followed Luz to Europe and is now possessing Rossini.
Hypnosis is often treated as a sort of magic in horror movies (and elsewhere), a way to hack into a person's mind and reveal something hidden or plant a trojan horse, though that sort of powerful mesmerist is out of vogue. What makes Luz a nifty, disorienting sort of horror movie is the way in which it combines hypnosis and possession, blurring the lines between Rossini's therapeutic tool and the entity's supernatural abilities, creating a sense of lack of control and disconnection that many other films like this may not necessarily lack, but do limit. It's a fascinating way to make what seems like a very small threat into something tremendously tense, but it's not just the supernatural element that is amplified here; Singer connecting these two elements in this particular way amplifies the underlying situation, where a woman who has been violated and attacked finds herself forced into a similar situation in the place where she is supposed to be safe, the line between the clinically intimate and the invasive eventually being obliterated.
Luana Velis doesn't get a speech about this as Luz, who is built up as the sort of survivor that is becoming a bit more visible these days (at least to men in the audience; women are more familiar): Guarded if you know where to look, but not naturally inclined to shrink. Luz spends much of the film hypnotized or otherwise being pushed around, but Velis and Singer make it clear that this isn't necessarily her natural state, and if the genre naturally highlights how this sort of situation frightens her, it's also hard to miss how it offends and angers her as well. Luz may not always be active, but Velis is able to make the film gravitate toward her so that it's about Luz and her reaction, rather than her tormentors or potential rescuers.
The cast around her is small, but every one of them seems to serve a purpose. Jan Bluthardt blurs the line between the normal and possessed Rossini enough that, when scenes are out of sequence, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which is which, but that's kind of the point, that the differences between a kind of sexist man who is full of himself and one who is a genuine predator are subtle. Nadja Stübiger and Johannes Benecke demonstrate the differences in how men and women notice something is not right about a situation and react. Lilli Lorenz and Julia Riedler sharpen flashbacks which could be purely expository.
The film has an unnerving look, too, shot on 16mm in brutalist, run-down locations that can pass for the 1980s time period, with a great deal of smoke that makes a room claustrophobic while also leaving any hope of escape indefinitely far away. The sound is peculiar and synth-y, too loud and out of sync, but it fits, even if it is also often very jarring. Singer seldom lets the audience forget that they're watching a movie - some of the dropouts on the film seem a little too regular to not be a reminder of the film's own artificiality - but that often has the effect of conditioning the viewer to look for order even as it receives something very much out of joint.What makes "Luz" most worthy of envy, though, is that relatively little of this seems obvious on the first viewing, where the impression is mostly of a horror movie that gets under one's skin for reasons that don't really matter. It's later reflection that reveals how purposeful and effective even the decisions seemingly meant to control the budget are, and why it may bother a viewer a bit more than another similarly atmospheric movie. If this is what he does for his thesis, it will be interesting to see what Singer does with more resources and the strings that come with them.
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