An immigrant cabby named Luz stumbles dazed into a German police station, repeating a profane distortion of a religious prayer to a couple of baffled detectives. Meanwhile, in a nearby bar, a forwardly chatty woman is diving seductively into a spiel about her Catholic schoolgirl friend who just recently jumped out of her moving taxicab to a psychoanalysis specialist on the edge of his seat. Drunk enough to take advantage of, the Doctor falls for the woman’s alluring trap, beguiling him to do her bidding as an unwilling host. As the now possessed doctor arrives to evaluate Nora for the police, he instigates a hypnosis recreation of the details events leading up to Luz’s ravings and disillusions. What happens next goes beyond human comprehension and rational as the doctor desires more from the stupefied Luz than what meets the eye.
Undoubtedly a strong skiff of demonic peculiarity weathering forth against an unforgiving maelstrom of spiffy-glamourous and yacht-sized counterparts is Tilman Singer’s memorizing tale of demigod deception in “Luz.” As the German born filmmaker’s first written-and-directed full length feature film, a film school project shot entirely on 16mm color negative, Singer dazzles with a throwback grindhouse glow set ablaze with a neon flare that adds to the perilous seduction and violation of the mind and primal infatuation. “Luz’s” was filmed in Cologne, Germany, where Singer studied film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, during the production year of 2018 and saw success at various Germany festivals, including it’s debut at the Berlin Film Festival and the Fantasia Film Festival. The Academy of Media Arts Cologne also serves as the production company, as it was, after all, a school project, and listed as Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM).
“Luz” wouldn’t be what as staggering as it is if it wasn’t for the invested cast who brings Singer’s vision to the spectrum. Luana Velis’s seamless grasp of the editing has remarkable wealth when playing a disoriented cab driver coming in off the street and Velis as Luz, in the ebb and flow of reality when Dr. Rosinni (Jan Bluthardt) entrances her with a blend of hypnosis and psychoanalysis techniques, sustains character through various transitions present inside a large police board room, reality, and the subconscious recollection of places and events inside her mind that Singer constructions for visualization, not reality. Singer melds together places, people, and events, throwing audiences for loops and casting misleading signals and just where the hell our characters are gathered. Bluthardt is equally captivating post transformation, coming off like a calculated maniac, resolved in his wild role. Perhaps, my favorite of the cast list goes to Julia Riedler as Nora Vanderkurt, Luz’s icy former bedfellow from Catholic School who slithers into Dr. Rosinni’s ear like a bewitching asp while seeming like a normal bar patron, but Riedler’s spin on Vanderkurt breaks the construct beyond that of the sleazy barfly and into something more conniving, wicked, and alcohol infused while still steamy with sexual emissions. All three performances are keystones to “Luz” success while fellow cast mates Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz, and Nadja Stubiger, offer some spot on support.
“Luz” summits fear with intrinsic performance art of hazy, but colorful, atmospherics and off-kilter shapes and lines, making the most routine settings feel unsettling. It’s a strong cinematography showcase by Paul Faltz who was able to frame and fright a scene from a sterile and fatigued, wood paneled office environment; essentially put, Faltz turned coal into a diamond while Singer brought a keg of European horror to the party. Unconventional, of course, with a profound arthouse quality about it, “Luz” is very much inspired by the European masters of horror, but pulls quite a bit from the vibrancy of American filmmaking too, pulling inspiration more noticeably from John Carpenter’s overwhelming sense of apocalyptic doom from such a scale down narrative and the terror looms like a chandelier hanging by a single thread just waiting from the startling crash of glass and metal. There are themes related Catholicism, homoeroticism, guilt, and obsession through the venomous innate nature of demon, as if unknowingly leaving an open invitation for evil by way of spiritual clairvoyance and Catholic defiance. Full of abstract visuals and melodious dialogue, “Luz” still burns the scary story lantern with a flickering of imminent existential combustion.
While the theatrical release has been officially canceled, “Luz” will still live on through the digital world, being released by Sharp Teeth Films, who released the POV slasher horror “You Are Not Alone,” on June 1st in the United Kingdom. With this being now a digital release, critiquing the audio and video quality will be limited to the artistic direction. Video-wise, Singer sought the use of a 16mm film stock with the speckle and grain texture of that beloved, yet enveloping imperfection and shooting in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using an Arri Alexa and RED cameras that supported an anamorphic lenses. The result is phenomenal to digest with some serious depth when considering how small the sets are, turning mere pockets of space into the likes of grand ball rooms. The German, Spanish, and very little English dialogue tracks are clear and prominently abutted against a well adjusted ambience mix; in all, the audio package has good depth and range. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener. “Luz” is weird, mystifying, and can wriggle into your favor with a chilling essence taking a leisurely stroll along your back, propping up the hairs one strand at a time. Highly recommended.