Luz Luana VelisYear: 2018
Director(s): Tilman Singer
Writer(s): Tilman Singer
Region of Origin: Germany
Rating: n/a
16mm, Color, 70 mins

Synopsis: Hell breaks loose when a young cab driver enters a run-down police station.

By design, we view and digest almost every film in the same way. We’re told exactly how to feel, the credits roll, we move on. This absolutely isn’t the case with director Tilman Singer’s astonishing debut, Luz. Singer never once takes the easy way out. Trading concrete answers for an aggressively abstract depiction of possession, his film washes over us with each mesmerizing scene. It reminds us that films can be a conversation and not just a passive experience. After all, the best art makes us give as much as we get. Though it definitely won’t be for everybody, Singer’s disorienting effort is unlike anything else. It forces us to meet it on its own level, dissecting what we love about cinema through a terrifying journey into the unknown.

The story begins when a young cab driver named Luz (Luana Velis) walks into a near-empty police station. After a meltdown, she’s asked to recount how she got there. Seemingly locked in a blasphemous trance, we learn about her troubled past, which gives way to a shocking revelation. Taking charge of the unconventional interrogation, is a man named Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), who harbors sinister secrets of his own. Over the course of a night, old memories collide with the present, leading everyone involved down a supernatural path in which anything can happen.

With a plot tethered almost exclusively to a single room, Singer deconstructs cinematic language through an examination of basic human instinct. As Luz succumbs to her impulses, Singer pulls the rug out from underneath us, telling her story with meta flourishes and a stylistically fractured structure. While you could argue that the film is a look at how paranoia and repressed feelings manifest, it’s also a maddening tone poem that doesn’t need definition. In many ways, this is an experience that feels more about primal emotions and symbolism, rather than a direct translation of what we’re seeing. What’s not left to the abstract, is Singer’s harrowing depiction of possession. It’s a fascinating example of how we submit to primal urges, constantly giving ourselves to things we can’t control. Despite an admittedly heady slant, the film is an eerie, unique thriller that’s wholly unpredictable.

Luz review Jan Bluthardt Lilli LOrenzGiven Singer’s minimalist approach, the film is a showcase for its small ensemble, each of whom turn in operatic characters whose actions border on performance art. As the title character, Luana Velis’ Luz is the glue the ties everything together, both narratively and thematically. Velis is fierce and irreverent, adding unmistakable humanity to the film’s impressionism. Opposite, Jan Bluthardt’s Dr. Rossini exudes menace and chaos. If every film is only as good as is antagonist, Bluthardt’s performance keeps us tied to the screen. Last but not least, Lilli Lorenz’s Margarita punctuates the film by making each brief appearance worth it, implying an emotional connection that’s fleeting but impactful.

Luz is a euro horror riddle wrapped within irresistible arthouse sensibilities. I can guarantee that horror fans who claim to have seen it all have never seen anything like this. I also can’t imagine a more explosive debut than this, which easily evokes the first time we fell in love with cinema. From its nightmare-inducing images to hints at a more existential horror, this film forces us to see films in a new way. It’s full of tension, paranoia, stunning visuals and emotional weight, making it an impressionistic powerhouse that’s worth getting lost in.

SG