Luz, the impressive debut feature from German writer-director Tilman Singer, is a singular work. It defies easy categorization or even simple comparison. I’d wager it bears a striking similarity to Anthony DiBlasi’s still hugely underrated Last Shift, in setting (a police station) if not in tone (DiBlasi is brooding and creepy, Singer juggles an offbeat deadpan humor with sharp shocks of weird, un-explainable madness).
The film opens with a lengthy long shot reminiscent of that which opens Mega64’s Version 1, although in this case nobody is eating pudding (disappointing). Here, a young woman walks into what is slowly revealed to be a police station, gets a drink out of a vending machine, knocks it back, and then starts screaming at an unseen entity. This is our titular character, played with an easy confidence by Luana Velis.
Across town, a male therapist, Dr. Rossini (Johannes Benecke), is trying to enjoy a quiet drink in the kind of Berlin-style bar that intentionally looks like someone’s kitchen (the film was shot in Cologne) when another young woman accosts him, demanding that he listen to the story of Luz while plying Rossini with drugs and alcohol. This coke-addled fiend is more than meets the eye and, soon, the two stories will converge in surprising and highly disturbing ways.
That’s basically all the setup we get. Luz takes place almost entirely within the confines of the police station or, more specifically, a drab conference room where Rossini soon appears to put Luz through her paces. Via hypnosis, she’s coaxed into acting out the moments leading up to her arrival at the station. When the camera finally settles on Velis’s face, we see that it’s banged up, as though she’s been in an accident. Mysteries abound, with very few answers offered (to Singer’s credit).
Luz will be a divisive film for sure. It’s structured in such a way that it will either capture your attention immediately or send you running for the hills. Stick with it, and Singer’s debut holds many dark delights. The small cast is uniformly excellent, with Velis a standout. Tasked with communicating a variety of conflicting emotions, she manages to be an open book and wildly unreadable, often simultaneously.
The demon itself, smartly personified here by jumping from character to character, which negates the need for potentially dodgy CGI, isn’t as sexy as Adam Scott’s in The Good Place, but it’s always clear what’s going on — to us, if not to the characters (though one openly religious lad is terrified once he realizes something is up). It’s evident the filmmakers had no money to make the thing, and as a result they improvise as best they can.
Dry ice transforms the conference room into this unwieldy, otherworldly hell-scape, while black and white contact lenses prove to be excellent demonic accessories. DP Paul Faltz ensures Luz looks super grainy and textured throughout, so the single locations and many long shots never feel boring or rote. Likewise, the score by Simon Waskow is this insistent, brooding, pulsating thing that creeps along as slowly and deliberately as the camera.
This is an ambitiously told, hugely inventive tale of possession. Singer fills in Luz’s backstory with nifty flashbacks to her days at a Catholic all-girls school and the dark ritual that might have started the woman down the dark path she now can’t escape from. The film opens and closes with the same static shot but the implications are severely different. Without revealing too much, Singer makes a case for why his protagonist is forced to make a choice that seems relatively easy in the beginning.
Luz will not be for everyone but its short run-time (70 minutes!) should hopefully entice curious parties to check it out. It’s not a difficult film, just a deliberately obtuse one. Whether you find yourself falling for its spooky spell, there’s no denying this is an auspicious debut for Singer. It marks the German filmmaker out as one to watch in future. With any luck, he’ll put a woman front and center again if given the chance.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Tilman Singer
Writer(s): Tilman Singer
Stars: Luana Velis, Johannes Benecke, Jan Bluthardt, Lilli Lorenz
Release date: July 19, 2019 (limited)
Studio/Production Company: Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln
Language: German, Spanish, English
Run Time: 70 minutes