'Luz': Fantasia Review

Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
A stylish tease at bigger horrors.

Tilman Singer's retro-styled debut offers a strange take on spiritual possession.

An effective exercise in stylistic pastiche that has more to offer than its eerie retro mood, Tilman Singer's Luz presents a refreshing take on demonic possession in which the usual fright-flick cliches are nowhere to be found. Though a slow-burner that will alienate some, the picture's quiet stretches serve its purposes, turning what might've been just one act of a more conventional horror pic into a tantalizing short feature.

The title character (Luana Velis) is a woman from Chile who now works as a cabbie in an unnamed German city. We meet her as she walks, bloodied from some kind of accident, into an all-but-abandoned police station and awaits help. It's going to take a while.

The setting is ambiguous: Luz's fanny pack and backward cap suggest the '90s; one character's clunky beeper says 1980s; the use of a reel-to-reel tape recorder tells us we're in either a still-earlier decade or a police station with no budget for newfangled toys. The cinematography is widescreen 16mm, grainy and dirt-speckled, that looks informed by Italian giallos. These mixed signals free up a story that takes place entirely within two very sparse interiors (and one flashback elsewhere), white rooms in which the outside world hardly seems to exist.

While Luz is getting the attention of detectives, a psychologist named Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is at a nearby bar, being hit on by the only woman in the place. Nora (Julia Riedler) may have an ulterior motive: She's Luz's old schoolmate from Chile, and just met her here accidentally. She seems to know the shrink is about to get a call from the cops to evaluate Luz. But before he leaves, she's going to share more than a drink with Rossini — in an intimate, Cronenberg-y encounter that cements our understanding that something supernatural is going on here.

The rest of the film watches as Rossini interviews Luz under the observation of two detectives. It's no ordinary interrogation: Hypnosis plays a part, as does, well, not exorcism, but some kind of transfer of spirits that viewers will have to make sense of for themselves. Sitting in a cheap chair in the middle of the room, Luz is made to relive the evening's events. We hear the sounds in her cab, see the people she encountered, understand bits of the history Luz shares with Nora. The impatient detectives sometimes confuse this séance with their crosstalk, but they're soon put in their places by a greater, and probably malicious, power.

The film is too ambiguous to be spoiled by synopsis, but it's clear that the action before us has something to do with Luz's childhood interest in the occult. Even today, she's given to repeating a strange and profane version of the Lord's Prayer: "Our father, why art thou such a dick?," it begins. But however magnetic she may be to dark forces, the spirits aren't imprisoned within her. Singer watches as Rossini gets rather dramatically wrapped up in things, becoming different characters in the story while Luz appears passive. She isn't. And when Luz ends, she seems only at the beginning of her frightening path.

Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Johannes Benecke, Nadja Stubiger
Director-screenwriter: Tilman Singer
Producers: Dario Mendez Acosta, Tilman Singer
Executive producers: Luisa Stricker, Mario von Grumbkow
Director of photography: Paul Faltz
Production designer: Dario Mendez Acosta
Editors: Fabian Podeszwa, Tilman Singer
Composer: Simon Waskow
Venue: Fantasia Film Festival
Sales: Yellow Veil Pictures

In German and Spanish
70 minutes