2019, NR, 70 min. Directed by Tilman Singer. Starring Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stübiger.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 5, 2019
"Well met, well met, my own true love,
Long time I have been seeking thee;
I am lately come from the salt sea,
And all for the sake, love, of thee." – James Harris or The Daemon Lover, Trad.
Ever had a bad ex that just won't give up? That's sort of the narrative of experimental horror Luz, the graduating thesis film from young German filmmaker Tilman Singer that became an unexpected festival favorite last fall. A young taxi driver named Luz (Velis) has been in an accident, and the police call in a hypnotherapist (Bluthardt) to uncover what happened. However, the psychologist has recently been possessed by a demon, who jumped into his body from that of a mysterious woman (Riedler) in a bar. Before the supernatural infestation, she told him a long story about meeting – and becoming obsessed with – Luz when they were children in a Catholic school in Chile. The ambiguity of whether it's the woman or the demon's story becomes part of a shifting collage of overlapping narratives and viewpoints, with multiple characters behind the same eyes.
The opening moments – a four-minute, static wide shot of Luz walking into the near-empty police station, and ponderously gulping down a can of soda – set the tone and pace. At barely over an hour, Luz drags. Much of that is a deliberate choice, stemming from a clipped, formal delivery – a mannered theatricality emphasized by casting seasoned stage actors like Bluthardt and Riedler, with a stage actor's sense of blocking and delivery. Singer knew what he wanted, but the formality becomes merely stilted and unengaging. The dour, washed-out grays that dominate the visual don't help: It's seemingly an attempt to evoke both late-Cold War Germany and Giallo (and if any genre is due for retirement right now, it's faux-retro Giallo, especially any film that adds fake grain, scratches, and dust to ). A film is supposed to have an esthetic, but when the esthetic in question is a mix of the often languorous pacing midera Fulci, the quizzical stillness and camera drift of David Lynch, and the video for "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire, it may not be the ideal choice.
Singer has great inspirations, and the multilayered approach to edits and sound design within the hypnosis is ingenious and excellently executed. But it doesn't add up to much, and it's hard not to compare Luz to Marcin Wrona's chilling and heartbreaking 2015 swan song Demon. That film was equally stylized, but it had a heart, whereas this feels like an exercise in no-budget execution. It's fine to have a story built with smoke and mirrors, but when the smoke clears, something has to be reflected.