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Simon Read [Celluloid 04.25.19] Germany horror thriller

The debut feature from writer/director Tilman Singer, Luz is a dreamy thriller shot in the style of a 1970s European horror film. It’s wildly confusing, but there are some interesting things going on.

Luz (Luana Velis), a young taxi driver, arrives dishevelled at a police station. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), a psychologist, is drinking at a bar and is picked up by a sultry woman (Julia Riedler). He is then called to the station to interview Luz, but appears to have been demonically possessed during his earlier encounter. He places Luz under hypnosis, supervised by police detective Bertillion and her assistant Olarte. What happens next is basically completely bonkers.

Singer shoots in a deliberately stilted, quasi-‘giallo’ style with an emphasis on colour, composition and sound design, rather than, say, naturalistic acting or linear storytelling. Writing that synopsis above, it’s basically a rehash of the IMDb plot summary - immediately after seeing the film I would not have been able to tell you what actually happens. I’m still vague on it now.

Characters frequently speak in enigmatic riddles, their movements self-conscious as though controlled by unseen forces. The scene between Rossini and the woman at the bar feels like a piece of surrealist theatre, and throughout the film characters quote a profanity-laden take on the Lord’s Prayer. Whilst under hypnosis, Luz mimes driving her taxi, and the film adds the appropriate sound effects, including honking traffic and pop music on the car stereo. It’s heady stuff, and expertly executed, but as with so much in the film we’re not entirely sure why she’s doing this or why we’re watching it.

As the demonically possessed therapist, Bluthardt is both creepy and funny. There are moments where he seems to be channelling the spirit of Klaus Kinski, a manic grin giving way to a ferocious scowl - he has a commanding screen presence, even when sporting a negligee. Velis’ performance as the eponymous Luz is quietly impressive too. Her character spends most of the film under hypnosis, but when conscious she is tough and sad and world-weary. All of this would bear more significance had the film explained itself more clearly, but we sense these are actors taking the material seriously.

Eventually the already fragile narrative structure of Luz dissolves entirely. There are hysterical flashbacks and supernatural rituals; nude demons prance freely as the sterile reality of the police station is replaced by a sort of ethereal smoky netherworld. Again, I can’t tell you why this happens, but it does.

Young film-makers will continue to pay homage to their favourite directors of the past, and Luz sometimes feels like a strange hybrid of the sensibilities of Rainer Fassbinder and Dario Argento. Othertimes it just feels like a big incomprehensible mess.

At 70 minutes Luz is a short, crazy ride, and I admit that it has stayed with me over the last few days. The film does feel frustratingly oblique, and at times we wish Singer had taken a more straightforward approach to the material, even if this were at the expense of its otherworldly tone and often startling visual design. Nevertheless, I'm certainly glad to have seen this curious debut, and look forward to seeing more.

Recommended Release: The Sentinel

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