Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fantastic Fest ’18: Luz

Normally, a crummy German police station with all the original 1970s décor would be a depressing place to visit. In this case, it will be disorienting and terrifying. Frankly, the cops and faux wood paneling are the least of this young woman’s worries. Her concerns are more demonic in nature during the strange course of Tilman Singer’s Luz (trailer here), which screens as a selection of this year’s Fantastic Fest.

The title character enters the station and starts acting oddly. All will sort of be explained, but first we cut across town to where Chilean expat Nora Vanderkurt is seducing a police head-shrinker. It seems Luz is a long-lost friend of hers going back to their boarding school days in Chile, who is now working as a cabbie in Germany. Yet, for some reason, Luz jumped out of her own moving cab to get away from Vanderkurt.

That much seems to be true, but be skeptical of everything else you see or hear. Regardless, it soon becomes apparent that Vanderkurt is acting under some sort of infernal influence. Of course, she will also bring the drunk and aroused Dr. Rossini under its control as well. That will make things interesting when Rossini is called in to examine Luz.

Initially, Rossini still seems to have it together, but when he puts Luz under hypnosis all bets are off. Suddenly, the film veers into experimental territory as Luz starts to act out scenes from her past like Marcel Marceau. Her perception blends into our perception, but perception in general goes all kablooey when the supernatural fog rolls in.

Luz is probably about as experimental as a horror movie can get while still being an effective horror movie. Clearly, Singer knows the work of Robbe-Grillet and other post-modernists, but he has also studied Halloween and The Exorcist¸ because he creates visceral tension through the use of creepy soundscapes.

It also helps to have an absolutely fearless ensemble playing the terrified characters. Luana Velis is absolutely riveting and massively freaky as Luz. Likewise, it is hard to even describe Jan Bluthardt’s performance as Rossini, freely combining low comedy and bizarro evil. Julia Riedler is also one heck of a showstopping femme fatale as Vanderkurt. Her extended seduction of Rossini goes from wtf to “holy cats, Batman” right before our eyes.

This film is bound to be divisive, but there is a there there and its scary as heck. Singer deserves a lot of credit, because he proves you can be ambitious in the horror genre and still get your scares. It keeps company with a select group of films informed by poststructuralism but still all kinds of frightening, like Tombville, Impossible Horror, and that’s about all. Very highly recommended adventurous viewers, Luz screens again this Tuesday (9/25) during Fantastic Fest (and it also plays 10/13 during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival).