By: Hawk Ripjaw (A Toast)
Luz is going to be divisive and it’s definitely not for everyone, but for those that enjoy this sort of the esoteric throwback filmmaking, it’s a fantastic slice of nostalgia.
I’ll be honest, the surreal, dreamlike quality of Luz makes a synopsis challenging but also somewhat unnecessary. But I can try.
The opening moments of Luz find the titular young woman (Luana Velis) staggering into a police station, seemingly in a trance.
A psychiatrist, Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is unwinding at a bar, when he is aggressively approached by a woman, Nora (Julia Riedler). The woman tells him the story of Luz, who, back in school, summoned an entity. Now that demon, having fallen in love with Luz (essentially) wants to get back to her.
In the second half of the film, Dr. Rossini eases Luz into a trance in order for the police to interview her on the specifics of a taxicab accident. This is where things start to get a bit more esoteric, like one of those weird dreams/nightmares in which linear events start to coagulate together into something more bizarre. It’s also here where director Tilman Singer is either going to garner praise or criticism, because this is absolutely not what you see out of movies anymore, but again, if someone’s seeking out something really different, they’re going to find it here.
The craft of Luz is absolutely transfixing. The grainy, 16mm picture is immediately attention-grabbing. And that’s not “shot on digital with a 16mm filter.” This was shot on 16mm film. Singer has a deep affinity for very long takes, many of them lasting for minutes or more, sometimes longer than is comfortable. It’s almost like you’re waiting for the shot to end, but it just keeps holding, which really starts to get effectively unsettling.
At just over an hour long, Luz feels like just enough given what it attempts to do. There’s just this crazy mood to it, that from the opening moments latches on and doesn’t let go for one nail-biting second. It feels a lot like the giallo horror films of the 70s, and Singer cements himself as a worthy successor to Dario Argento.
The hypnosis at the center of Luz feels just as authentic as the time and place of the film itself. The sound design and cinematography have an increasingly dreamlike quality, easing us into the Luz’s sedated state of mind. As Luz reenacts her night in the middle of the room, the sound effects of the event are inserted into the dream, people disappear and reappear behind her, and occasionally the entire scene shifts to Luz in her actual taxi. The way Singer smoothly transitions between each of these things, letting them slip in and out of frame, amplifies the feeling of the dream. Dialogue is spoken and subtitled in multiple languages. The viewer is in as much of a trance as Luz.
That said, with all of the skill in cinematography and playfulness with diegetic sound, the most powerful sequence of the film doesn’t star Luz at all–the bar sequence, lasting for a good chunk of the film’s runtime, is the most transfixing. The initially standoffish Dr. Rossini slips steadily into a state of further inebriation as Nora continues to tell her story. The realization begins to set in of who Nora is. The camera begins to shift a bit, emphasizing faces and reactions. The music starts to rise in the background, reminiscent of Goblin’s work in Suspiria. It’s almost impossible to look away from.
Luz is one hell of a movie. Like the best of the weird 70s movies, it absolutely sucks you in. It’s Tilman Singer’s directorial debut, his thesis, and a wonderfully avant-garde piece of horror filmmaking. It’s not even necessarily frightening as a film, but it’s so hard to look away once it’s got its stylistic hooks in you that it induces a state of dread and powerlessness. You suspect how it’s going to end because the film is so confident in building that helpless sense of unease.
Tilman Singer is a talent to watch, especially if he’s allowed to continue on these strange, stylish projects.
Luz (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every take lasting longer than one minute.
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “Luz.”
Take a Drink: whenever another character takes a drink.