Entrancing and elusive, Tilman Singer’s debut feature film Luz was the stand-out film of Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn festival 2019. Playing out like an Avant Garde possession story, Luz follows a young cab driver’s (Luana Velis) desperate attempts to flee a demonic entity hell-bent on reuniting with its true love.
At first Luz feels like a late 70’s early 80’s retro-fitted art-house venture. There’s a whiff of Carpenter and Cundey to the slow, stalking, wide scope angles and grainy stock, an era-sensitivity to the coloring, and a touch of Zulawski to its madness. But these are just alienating techniques. Singer has actually constructed a film which feels like a forgotten relic without going ham on pulpy flavors. He doesn’t need to ram practical gore, synth scoring, or a cast of icons down our throat. Though there’s plenty of room for that kind of film, it’s become the norm. So Singer’s brand of era exploitation is a welcome palette cleanser, and, frankly, a group of references we don’t see enough.
The unfocused approach to Luz’s instigating accident could prove a headache for those who enjoy easy answers. It’s a possession story told in fractured vignettes, flashbacks, and a psychological reconstruction in which the tough cabbie is taken back through her memories by a mysterious psychoanalyst (played by Jan Bluthardt). Moments of clarity come as Luz remembers her past, but the past is as confusing as the present. Revelations are never really delivered as big dramatic reveals, instead, Singer takes great pleasure in snatching the story right from under our noses time and time again. There’s almost a Twin Peaks approach to evil and that’s pretty amazing to behold. Jacob’s Ladder and Angel Heart feel like other inspirational touchstones in a film which articulates just about everything through suggestion and whose sole dread is in spiritual terror and the fallibility of memory.
The heady mix of intoxicating sound design and stark visuals are not to be ignored either. Or Singer’s innate ability to pull off long-haul horror, the natural tension that comes from never quite knowing who we can trust is a palpable element to the film. There’s a demon afoot after all, and it has its sights set on Luz.
There’s an element of sheer unbridled chaotic energy to Singer’s debut, an energy which courses through the audience for 70 sweet minutes of experimental demonium. When the credits roll, Luz is a lingerer; one of those rare films which so perfectly paints its own world and characters, that returning to ours is a strange shock to the system.
Like Argento’s Suspiria or Zuwalski’s Possession, Luz is a sensory experience as much as an intriguing story. Its inspirations aren’t limited to the nostalgic though; the spiritual horror, nihilism, and visceral nastiness Singer and co orchestrate fits in perfectly with the new wave of Avant Garde Euro-Horrors like All the Gods in the Sky and Revenge.
Dir. Tilman Singer
Stars. Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Johanes Benecke, Julia Riedler