Luz (2019)

“If you tell her it smells like fish, she smells like fish.”

It’s strange. I’ve literally sat through Luz’s dense 70 minutes three times. Twice concurrently and once more as a fleeting attempt to rationalize what I had seen. And what’s so bizarre is that, after trying to decipher a story written in sprawling shorthand, the movie makes complete sense yet still maintains a hypnotic vagary, looming around like an albatross in a seedy world where rules are bent and broken and shaped by the whims of the many forces strategically put in play. I’d be outright lying if I told you what it all adds up to or means. But I also can’t hide the way it made me feel either. Luz has burrowed its way into my mind. I can’t stop thinking about this movie.

The less you know the better off you’ll be. I hadn’t watched the trailer, hadn’t read the synopsis, and only knew by way of Twitter that word of mouth surrounding the film was overwhelmingly positive. The movie was an enigma to me before my first time seeing it, and it largely remains as such. So I’ll try to tell you what I know for sure. I know that Luz is a chamber piece, using a handful of characters set against a backdrop with even fewer settings to convey its contorted, rather confusing and expertly calculated story. I know that Luz (Luana Velis) is a cab driver on the run from a love drunk demon she spoke with sometime in her past. Much of the rest is open for your own interpretation; you become part of the picture. In this take on supernatural possession, you become the pursuant and the escapee, the predator and the prey. Possession overwhelms us both during Luz and long after the credits roll.

Following the peculiar and gripping static open, Luz transitions to a hypnotic woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) alone in a bar. She flirts the only other patron, the easily enticed Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), getting him drunk with strange elixirs and the devil’s water in order to take advantage of him. She’s an interesting woman and he’s a typical man, so you can imagine how easily she succeeds in the endeavor. But it’s likely for the best if I refrain from relaying any more of the plot past this point in the film. I highly doubt that I’d be able to stitch together the many looses strings in a way that makes sense, and I truly believe it’s the kind of murky experience audiences are better served by exploring and mapping out all on their own.

The holes and the gaps in Luz seem to have been placed there on purpose, less like an explosive mine field and more like a booby-trapped corn maze, forcing us to fall into particular parts and to fill the empty space with a bit of ourselves. This is an incredibly taxing film that leaves your mind running around a wheel like a rabid hamster, and that’s why I appreciate the narrative’s literal brevity and the editing’s ability to stretch a short story without tearing it apart at the seams. Luz tires you out quickly while still leaving you wanting for more, and once you see the film you’ll understand how that’s a core component to this exceptional addition to the horror genre. It’s hard enough for your palette to figure out what Luz is made from; it’s even more difficult to get the taste out of your mouth.

Most baffling of all is the fact that Luz is writer/director Tilman Singer’s thesis project as a film student. You’d think it was the product of a veteran director. Singer knows how to maximize environments to their optimal potential, he’s clearly comfortable with getting unshakable emotions from his cast, and he knows how to weave a familiar story in a new pattern. Featuring what’s sure to be some of the year’s best sound design – the aural atmosphere and the score by Simon Waskow are essential characters here – and three spellbinding performances, Singer’s first picture deserves to go down as one of the best debuts from a filmmaker in recent memory. I can’t wait to see what he conjures up next. Until then I’ll continue pondering Luz, a bona fide cult classic.

“My voice will accompany you.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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