Shot on 16mm film, Luz has a vintage, muted look that may draw in some viewers, but it’s not enough.
Imagine a nightmare fermented in the mind of a coke addict–a pseudo intellectual fever dream of a movie. That’s the gist of Luz, the feature debut from young German writer-director Tilman Singer. Yet despite an intriguing set-up, it comes up short.
The film’s plot is confusing from the very first scene, in which taxi driver Luz (Luana Velis) walks into a hospital (at least, that’s what we’re told it is), grabs a drink from a vending machine and screams at a desk clerk. What exactly is going on here? Soon we meet Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) at a nearby bar, where he is approached by a strange woman who carries an ethereal spirit that can move from one character to another, for reasons that are never clear. Whenever the entity attaches itself to someone, it seems to make them play a bat-shit crazy version of themselves that’s not too far from their true nature.
This is ostensibly a horror movie, but there are no scares, only confusion. A modicum of terror can be found in that confusion, but it’s like a kid in a basketball court showing off his tricks to impress the girls. The title character is given an unnecessary backstory that builds her up as some kind of Satanic bohemian, but she would have been more frightening if she had remained a mystery.
In what may be the film’s strongest sequence, the director attempts something more ambitious, juxtaposing past and present. Luz had killed an old classmate in her taxi before walking into the hospital, and she’s forced to relive the experience as doctors try and formulate an idea of what happened. Here Tilman seems to intentionally misguide viewers, and for once, it works: we have no idea what is going on during this sequence, yet it’s invigorating. The director was on to something here, but he doesn’t sustain it.
Shot on 16mm film, Luz has a vintage, muted look that may draw in some viewers, but it’s not enough. Regardless of its shortcomings, it feels like it’s leading somewhere, a drive that comes not from narrative but from theme and visuals. Tension builds and scenes get foggier as the film goes on, but the visuals don’t quite translate to atmosphere, and by the time the third act comes around, you’re begging for it to end.
Luz feels like a short film unnecessarily extended to feature length. Even hardcore horror fans might find it laborious, and its few promising scenes are wasted in the big picture. The non-linear structure is nearly incomprehensible, though it may not have been any more so if it were chronological. Furthermore, it’s not clear when the film takes place; Dr. Rossini is summoned via pager, so this could be any time before the early ‘00s, but maybe it doesn’t matter. The movie isn’t based on reality, just ideas. Fortunately, these ideas only take up 70 minutes of your time.
– by Churchill Osimbo