Review: Luz (Germany 2018)

A borderline-experimental possession horror film, Luz straddles the line between arthouse and horror, with enough unsettling atmosphere, blood, and nudity to satisfy gorehounds, but an avant-garde approach that wouldn’t seem out of place in a museum installation.

It can take time to get into the rhythms of Luz, indeed just to figure out what’s going on. The basic story, of a psychically gifted cabdriver named Luz (Luana Velis) being pursued by a demonic entity from her past is not complicated from a plot standpoint, but the filmmaking is highly theatrical and deliberately offputting, forgoing most of the usual tropes of the genre, and trusting the audience to keep up with who is possessed and why.

The film hits an early highpoint with seduction/confrontation between a consulting police psychologist (Jan Bluthardt) and an apparent barfly (played by Julia Riedler) who turns out to be deeply connected to the events.  Riedler goes big, providing a bird-like, off-kilter performance that wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Maddin silent – given the almost affectless performance from Velis as the title character, I would have preferred more out of Riedler. Luz, the center of the storm, is unfortunately the least compelling of the main characters.

Where the film really stands out, however, is sound design. Director Tilman Singer (in his debut and thesis film), soundtrack creator Simon Waskow, and the rest of their team create a sonic landscape of reverb, isolated dialogue, and overlapping diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, with constant whispering, multiple languages, and an emphasis on small noises (the crunch of celery, the rustle of clothing) that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cattet/Forzani joint like Let the Corpses Tan. There’s a droning quality that makes Luz sometimes feel like the aural equivalent of a Sunn 0))) album, and I dug it.

Luz is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but those seeking more outré sensorial freak-outs along the lines of Eraserhead or Beyond the Black Rainbow will appreciate this new voice in horror.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Above average).

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