So…weird. So very, very weird.
“Luz” disquieting, creepy and murky demonic possession thriller, a cryptic chiller that gets by on lots of mood, a smattering of violence and special effects and seriously unsettling sound design.
The debut feature of Tilman Singer is short but slow, simple but layered enough to obscure how little there is here to make something of.
A Chilean-born taxi driver walks into a German police station, taking baby steps, cowed and tentative as she approaches the desk sergeant.
Bloodied and bruised, she finally makes eye contact, and explodes. “Is THIS how you want to live your life? Is this seriously what you want?”
Luz (Luanna Velis) is speaking Spanish to a German cop in a movie that’s going to require English subtitles for both languages in North America.
And by “speaking” I mean in a disembodied voice that doesn’t feel like her own. It’s a motif, here. Characters are speaking in the voices of others, because they’re POSSESSED.
Luz chants a profane version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” ” “Our father, who art in heaven…”
“Thy kingdom…stinks. Thy will be done. In the crotch of an old grandpa.”
Yes, Luz has a problem that the police probably cannot help with. She is being pursued by demons, may be demonically possessed herself, and therein there’s a story to tell.
Actually several stories — anecdotes. The pushy German woman (Julia Riedler) with the affection for coke and cocktails that she doctors herself at the empty, gloomy florescent bar is fascinated by the barfly (Jan Bluthardt) with a pager.
Who carries pagers? DOCTORS. She wants to know, “Surgeon?”
No, psychotherapist, consultant to the police. Just the guy she was looking for.
“My girlfriend just jumped out of her moving taxi…”My girlfriend has a very special gift.”
As “Nora” snorts whatever she keeps in that vial in her necklace and pours whatever she doesn’t snort into the fruity drinks they keep consuming, she tells Dr. Rossini her story.
“I met Luz in Chile.”
Pieces of that past are recreated. Luz “summoned” something, way back in Catholic boarding school. Maybe that something is still on her trail.
And maybe it changes host bodies in a daisy-chain it is building towards getting to her.
There’s an eerie, echoing, growling electronic score used sparingly to help set the mood, but things are disorienting enough with just the hum of lighting and air conditioning and the crackle of so many different voices in the picture’s set piece interrogation scene.
Singer uses molasses-slow zooms to build suspense, jolting cuts to heighten his “gotcha” moments and way too many sound elements in that interrogation piece to keep track of.
In an empty auditorium, Dr. Rossini puts Luz the cabbie under hypnosis, and Singer inventively re-stages her night, sitting in folding chairs, miming a taxi ride — her encounter with Nora, a conversation that becomes an argument, a ride that turns into an accident, Rossini prods and prompts, Luz answers in either Spanish or German, and the German cop Olarte (Johannes Benecke) talks through earpieces, translating for both the doctor and the detective, Bertillon (Nadja Stübiger).
But in overwhelming his slight, 70 minute film about demonic possession with all this sound design, funereal pacing and efforts to disorient the viewer, Singer disconnects us from the story.
Who are we to root for, identify with? What sound stream are we to pay attention to?
Reading subtitles through the aural clutter of that interrogation is a tad maddening.
It’s easy enough to decipher what’s going on, harder to involve oneself in the story.
Velis, in a worn out “Chile” cap she wears backwards on her greasy scalp, with her fanny pack and cigarettes, gives us nothing to hang onto as a character.
The attempts at humor kind of click. An interrogator/translator draws the blinds to avoid the supernatural horror staring him right in the face — as if that’ll make it stop.
Characters explain themselves to each other in a kind of demonic deadpan.
“Is that why you strangled me?”
“Yes. But let’s forget about that for a minute…”
So while I see some merits in “Luz,” I found it frustrating to get into, impossible to enjoy. Appreciate? Maybe. It’s still a simple story overwhelmed by viewer-repelling “technique.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, nudity
Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler
Credits: Written and directed by Tilman Singer. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:10