At Times Disorientating, 'Luz' Is Still An Enticing Film

Aug 9, 2019

Luz comes billed as a horror film, but what gets under your skin has nothing to do with monsters roaring out of the basement, or down from outer space, -- or sudden loud sounds. And it’s not even any events in its story. What digs into the psyche comes more from the overall picture of a world that’s unreliable, but far too orderly, and sounds that are both repetitious and unnerving.

In fact, story is pretty iffy overall, and some of the descriptions I’ve read don’t match up well with what takes place on screen.

There’s a room that extends deep into the background that looks like a lobby in a typical office building. Two rows of harsh fluorescent lights run down the ceiling. A man, like a receptionist, sits at a desk on the left. He never looks up from whatever he’s doing, and the shot holds long enough to make you plenty nervous. This sterile, oppressive room and a couple of other spaces in the movie are what’s really horrifying.

Finally, a young woman comes in, stands at a drink machine for a while, and then yells a question at the receptionist. “Is this how you want to live your life?” He doesn’t answer. In a bit, you find out that the young woman who’s wearing a turned-backwards baseball cap that reads “Chile” across its front is Luz (Luana Velis). She’s from Chile; she drives a cab, and the cuts on her face come from having jumped out of the cab while it was moving.

And then there’s a kind of barroom. Especially since the 1970s and early 80s, with the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, German films have some of the best scuzzy bars in the movies. Fassbinder filled his with the dispossessed – people who did not get to participate in what’s called “the German economic miracle.” Tillman Singer, the director of Luz has only three people in his – Nora (Julia Riedler), a psychiatrist, Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) and a bartender who might be a Middle Eastern immigrant. Nora sits at the far end, starts to question Dr. Rossini, who’s in the foreground, and finally moves close to him to share some cocaine and a cloudy liquor. She tells him about Luz, and about Catholic school in Chile, but her story is distant, fragmented and alienating with sudden shifts in place and tone.

The barroom itself has mostly bare walls, painted an unpleasant grayish white.

And from there things grow ever more complicated. The story of Luz, as told by Nora heads into the bizarre. There’s something about Luz being possessed. Several times, the film repeats a sacrilegious version of the Lord’s Prayer, apparently composed by the character Luz. It’s not a particularly violent film, but a few faces get bloodied and the sound gets stranger.

After a couple of viewings, I still get lost in the story, but the look of Luz is arresting and unsettling. All that negative space – those long empty rooms, the long takes of character’s faces before they say anything, filmed with an unmoving camera – these places where superficially nothing is happening get your mind cooking. Joseph H. Lewis, a fine B-movie director of the 1940s and ‘50s, said that there was nothing he could put on screen that’s half as interesting as what you have in your head – his job was just to get you there.

Luz gets you there. It summons up the nameless, pictureless demons in ourselves that go bump in the night and never give you the satisfaction of taking concrete, visible shape.