As horror re-enters an artistic renaissance, one of the things to hope for is a return of the highly-stylized, almost incomprehensible films that consume aficionados for years to come. Luz, directed by Tilman Singer, is one of those, and Houstonians have a rare chance to see it in the theaters thanks to Alamo Drafthouse hosting it for a limited run.
The basic story is that as a young girl in a Chilean Catholic school, Luz appears to have summoned a demon using a vulgar rendition of The Lord’s Prayer in a ceremony with another girl who believed she was pregnant. It’s highly implied the ritual was really just a form of sexual experimentation, but something did come through and the other girl died. Now, Luz is a taxi driver in Germany who finds her past coming back for her.
That’s the plot, but even describing it seems like a waste of a paragraph. What happens in the film is almost beside the point. The real focus is the patterns of this body-hopping evil that passes like an STD between characters, all the while playing with them using psychology and authority. The entity possesses a drunken hypnotist, who comes to help the police after Luz jumps from her cab.
What follows is terrifying despite the lack of conventional scares. Jan Bluthardt as Dr. Rossini and Luana Velis as Luz have this electric chemistry as the former guides the latter through a hypnotic recreation of the taxi ride where the entity tried to take Luz over before she escaped. Side note: as a clinical hypnotist, it is so refreshing to see hypnosis in film this accurately done. Admittedly, it’s quick and overly-dramatic, but that’s the medium for you
The film is at its best here, deftly utilizing everything from mime to playing with language translation between the characters to unsettle. In fact, the most frightening moment in the whole movie is probably when the entity forgets to pretend to not speak Spanish and reveals itself as something demonic. It’s incredibly subtle, but it is the sort of moment that stays in your head the way a jump scare never could.
It’s not an easy film to follow, but at only 70 minutes it’s hard to get fully lost between the shifting timelines and characters who often appear as others or as hallucinations. The themes of trauma living on and bumbling or actively hostile authority helping it do so are strong enough to survive momentary confusion. The acting especially carries Luz through rough parts, and the music is one of the best horror soundtracks of the last two decades.
There’s little conventional about Luz. What blood and gore that is present is more frightening because of its minimalism, like looking into a toilet bowl and seeing a few drops of carmine. There’s some Catholic-baiting – an oddly prevalent trend in recent horror – but even that is more stand-in for institutional abuse that proper demonology. The entity never gets a name and we never learn its purpose other than to move from place to place. Maybe it’s running away from something as Luz is. You’d have to think long about the movie to decide that, and I highly recommend doing so.
Luz runs at Alamo Drafthouse La Centerra (2707 Commercial Center) through August 1. German/Spanish with English subtitles.